The incorporation of research opportunities in undergraduate engineering education provides students with early hands-on experiences that often influence retention rates and the likelihood of continued higher education. A new initiative at The University of Texas at Austin, the Freshman Introduction to Research in Engineering (FIRE) program, offers a select group of first-year students with an opportunity to participate in semester-long, faculty-sponsored mechanical engineering research and development projects. In addition to their research, students attend bi-weekly lectures that introduce them to various topics in mechanical engineering and current research in the field, the successes (and roadblocks) in engineering research and how to overcome them, and career opportunities in engineering. An end of semester poster session allows students to showcase their research results and describe opportunities for future work, encouraging continued involvement in research. Many FIRE students continue to participate in research after the program concludes and note that the program influenced their decision to attend UT and confirmed their interest in the field of mechanical engineering. The general structure of the FIRE program is documented in this paper. The paper also documents the impact of FIRE on student retention in the major, student participation in undergraduate research after the program ends, and student interest in graduate work in STEM fields.
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