Mechanical Engineering

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Impact of Undergraduate Research Experience in Engineering
ANDREW L. ZYDNEY
Department of Chemical Engineering University of Delaware encouraged the development of a number of programs to involve students in research at predominantly undergraduate institutions. Faculty mentors generally agree that there are significant educational benefits to the undergraduate research experience [5, 7]. Students are thought to develop expertise in a specific area of specialization, gain a better understanding and appreciation of the research process, and acquire team, communication, problemsolving, and critical thinking skills. Other frequently voiced outcomes include the ability to think independently [1] and an increase in originality, creativity, and curiosity [4]. A 1989 Report from the National Science Foundation [11] stated that “it is clear that the academic community regards the involvement of undergraduate students in meaningful research…with faculty members as one of the most powerful instructional tools.” A Workshop sponsored by the National Research Council [16] in 1998 indicated that “research is a necessary component of the bachelor’s degree education.” Further, the Boyer Commission Report specifically urged university faculty to “make research-based learning the standard” for the education of their undergraduates [3]. Despite these claims, undergraduate research remains somewhat controversial. A recent headline in the Chronicle of Higher Education stated: “Research by undergraduates proliferates, but is some of it just glorified homework?” [14]. This article points out that there is considerable pressure on universities to offer undergraduate research programs to more effectively recruit the best high-school seniors, but that many of these experiences are less than challenging. In addition, undergraduate research programs can be very expensive, including the significant demands on faculty time and effort. Formal assessments of learning outcomes attained through the undergraduate research experience are somewhat limited. Mabrouk and Peters [8] surveyed 126 chemistry and biology undergraduates who had participated in undergraduate research, with the students indicating that they perceived a significant improvement in technical skills, problem-solving skills, and professional self-confidence. Similar results were reported by Kardash [7] in a survey of 57 undergraduate science students and by Sabatini [15] through focus group discussions with four current civil engineering students and a follow-up questionnaire distributed to a very small number of current and former undergraduate research students. In contrast, Hackett et al. [6] analyzed survey responses from 436 engineering undergraduates, 71 of whom had been involved in undergraduate research. Although students rated the undergraduate research experience as very influential in their career choices, no significant difference was seen in the students’ self-reported rating of their acquisition of analytical, intellectual, leadership, or communication skills compared to a control group that had not participated in research. Several studies have examined the impact of the undergraduate research experience on the likelihood of pursuing graduate education. Morley et al. [9] found that 92% of the participants in a Journal of Engineering Education 151

JOAN S. BENNETT
Undergraduate Research Program University of Delaware

ABDUS SHAHID
Undergraduate Research Program University of Delaware

KAREN W. BAUER
Office of Institutional Research and Planning University of Delaware

ABSTRACT
A survey of alumni from the College of Engineering at the University of Delaware was conducted to assess the impact of the undergraduate research experience. Students who had participated in undergraduate research were matched with a comparable group of alumni who had no research experience. Alumni were unaware that their responses would be used to assess the impact of undergraduate research....
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