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  and an increase in originality, creativity, and curiosity . A 1989 Report from the National Science Foundation  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  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 . 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?” . 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  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  in a survey of 57 undergraduate science students and by Sabatini  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.  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.  found that 92% of the participants in a Journal of Engineering Education 151
JOAN S. BENNETT
Undergraduate Research Program University of Delaware
Undergraduate Research Program University of Delaware
KAREN W. BAUER
Office of Institutional Research and Planning University of Delaware
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....
References:  Ahlm, K. 1997. A researcher’s guide to key assessment principles and techniques. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly. 18: 70–72.  Bauer, K.W., and J.S. Bennett. 2002. Alumni perceptions used to assess undergraduate research experience. Journal of Higher Education. (in press).  Boyer Commission on Education of Undergraduates in the Research University. 1998. Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities. New York.  Davis, D.S., and D. Glazier. 1997. How do we evaluate undergraduate research. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly. 18: 73–76.  Gates, A.Q., et al. 1999. Expanding participation in undergraduate research using the affinity group model. Journal of Engineering Education. 88(4): 409–414.  Hackett, E.J., J. Croissant, and B. Schneider. 1992. Industry, academe, and the values of undergraduate engineers. Research in Higher Education. 33(3): 275–295.  Kardash, C.M. 2000. Evaluation of an undergraduate research experience: Perceptions of undergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. Journal of Educational Psychology. 92: 191–201.  Mabrouk, P.A., and K. Peters. 2000. Student perspectives on undergraduate research experiences in chemistry and biology. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly. 21: 25–33.  Morley, R.L., J.J. Havick, and G.S. May. 1998. An evaluation of the Georgia Tech summer undergraduate program of research in electrical engineering for minorities. Journal of Engineering Education. 87(3): 321– 325.
The past 30 years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of students involved in undergraduate research; however, there have 156 Journal of Engineering Education
 Nagda, B.A., et al. 1998. Undergraduate student-faculty research partnerships affect student retention. The Review of Higher Education. 22: 55–72.  National Science Foundation. 1989. Report on the National Science Foundation Disciplinary Workshops on Undergraduate Education. Washington, D.C.  Office of Institutional Research, SUNY Albany (now the University at Albany). 1989. http://www.albany.edu/tree-tops/ir/reports.html . Accessed November 12, 2001.  Pace, C.R. 1979. Measuring Outcomes of College: Fifty Years of Findings and Recommendations for the Future. San Francisco, CA: JosseyBass.  Reisberg, L. 1998. Research by undergraduates proliferates, but is some of it just glorified homework? Chronicle of Higher Education. May 22.  Sabatini, D.A. 1997. Teaching and research synergism: The undergraduate research experience. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. 123: 98–102.  Schowen, K.B. 1998. Research as a critical component of the undergraduate educational experience. Assessing the Value of Research in the Chemical Sciences. National Research Council Report, National Academy Press: 73–81.
Dr. Joan S. Bennett, Coordinator of Undergraduate Research at the University of Delaware, founded the program in 1980. She has received recognition for educational innovation from the American Association for Higher Education as well as from University of Delaware units including Mortar Board and the Center for Composite Materials. She is co-principal investigator with university President David P. Roselle on the University of Delaware’s National Science Foundation Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education (RAIRE), which recognized the Undergraduate Research Program and related leadership in problem-based learning as national models. Dr. Bennett is also a professor of English at the University of Delaware. She earned the Ph.D. in English from Stanford University in 1971 and has received several national awards for her research in Milton studies. Address: Undergraduate Research Program, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716-1253; telephone: 302-831-8995; fax: 302-831-3698; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Abdus Shahid is currently working as an Institutional Research Analyst at the University of Delaware. Dr. Shahid received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Delaware in January 2001 and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Undergraduate Research Center of the university. Address: The Office of Institutional Research & Planning, 334 Hullihen Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716; telephone: 302-831-0239; fax: 302-831-8530; e-mail: email@example.com. Dr. Karen W. Bauer is the Assistant Director of Institutional Research and Planning and Assistant Professor in the Psychology and Women’s Studies departments at the University of Delaware. Her primary areas of research include higher education assessment, college student development, and gender studies. Dr. Bauer earned her Ph.D. at The University of Maryland in 1988. She was a Research Psychologist for The American College Testing, Inc. prior to coming to the University of Delaware in 1988. She is part of the research team on UD’s NSF RAIRE Award, as well as the Pew Charitable Trust Grant on Problem-Based Learning. She is co-PI on the NSF grant on Outcomes Assessment for Undergraduate Research (1999–2001). Dr. Bauer is an advisor to undergraduate students and serves on doctoral dissertation committees. Address: The Office of Institutional Research & Planning, 329 Hullihen Hall, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, 19716; telephone: 302-831-1624; fax: 302-831-3698; e-mail: kbauer@ udel.edu.
Dr. Andrew L. Zydney is currently the Endowed Bio-Chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Zydney received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from M.I.T. in 1985, and was a faculty member in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Delaware from 1985–2001. Dr. Zydney has received several teaching awards, including the University of Delaware’s Excellence in Teaching Award and the Distinguished Teacher Award from the American Society for Engineering Education. He was principal investigator of the NSF REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program at the University of Delaware from 1999–2001, and has advised more than 35 undergraduate research assistants. Dr. Zydney has also been a member of the faculty advisory board for the University of Delaware’s Research-Based Education program. Address: Department of Chemical Engineering, 120 Fenske Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16801; telephone: 814-863-7113; fax: 814-865-7846; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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