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A Model for Multidisciplinary Experiences for Undergraduates that Promotes Retention and Pipeline to Graduate School

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.65.1 - 22.65.14



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Paper Authors


Magdalini Z. Lagoudas Texas A&M University

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Director, Engineering Student Services and Academic Programs
College of Engineering, Texas A&M University

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Bugrahan Yalvac Texas A&M University

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Yalvac received his Ph.D. in Science Education with a minor degree in Science, Technology and Society in 2005 at the Pennsylvania State University. Yalvac worked as learning scientist for the VaNTH Engineering Research Center at Northwestern University for three years before his current assistant professor of Science Education position at Texas A&M University. Yalvac’s research focuses on How People Learn framework, science and engineering education, authentic learning environments, cognitive and embodied learning theories, qualitative research methods, and sociology of science.

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A Model for Multidisciplinary Experiences for Undergraduates that Promotes Retention and Pipeline to Graduate SchoolAdvances in science and engineering are essential for ensuring US economic growth andnational security. Attracting students from underrepresented groups into engineering andretaining to degree completion can increase the pool of qualified engineers entering the USworkforce, promote social equity, and support the US economy in a global market. The SpaceEngineering Institute (SEI) was established in 2003 at Texas A&M University (TAMU) aspartnership with NASA Johnson Space Center targeting underrepresented groups. The SEIfocus is to improve retention, graduation rates, and increase pipeline to graduate school.The SEI approach is to engage students in team projects that are multidisciplinary and multi-level (freshman to seniors) with faculty, graduate students and NASA engineers serving asmentors. Students apply to the program and are selected based on the technical needs of currentteam projects selected for that academic year. The SEI participants receive no class credit butthey receive wage compensations. The program requires students to work on the team projectten hours per week, maintain a minimum GPR, and receive satisfactory team-performanceevaluations by the mentors at the end of each semester.Each team project is defined so that the research conducted by the student team is associatedwith a NASA specific technical need and guided by a NASA engineer mentor. Our survey datareveals that participating students value the notion that their project is a “real” engineeringproblem. The SEI model has demonstrated excellent retention of the students in engineeringwith a graduation rate of above 70% (Classes of 2006 through 2009) compared to a nationalaverage of 50%. This retention success is especially significant because SEI involves higherpercentages of the US ethnic minorities and females than the national average. In addition, asignificant percentage (20%) of the recent SEI graduates (Classes 2007, ‘08 and ‘09) arepursuing graduate degrees because of their early involvement in research and their interactionwith graduate student mentors as they reported. In 2009-10, SEI included ninety students fromfour Texas university campuses (TAMU, TAMU-Kingsville, TAMU-Commerce, andPVAMU). The group represented nine engineering departments and all four undergraduatelevels.Based on the success of SEI outcomes, a new program, Multidisciplinary Experiences forUndergraduates (MEU), was established in fall semester 2010 with a focus to expand to projectsbeyond space exploration. Currently, team projects on power grid reliability, probabilistic riskassessment, and energy sustainability are offered to undergraduate engineering students atTAMU. In this paper, the authors will discuss the SEI approach, the retention data, studentsurvey results, and the lessons learned that will provide insights to others who are interested inimplementing a similar model in their institutions.Graphs below show SEI participant demographics and graduation rate. White Hispanic 70 African American Other 60 50 40 [%] 30 20 10 0 2002- 2003- 2004- 2005- 2006- 2007- 2008- 2009- 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 80 70 Female 60 Male 50 [%] 40 30 20 10 0 2002- 2003- 2004- 2005- 2006- 2007- 2008- 2009- 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

Lagoudas, M. Z., & Yalvac, B. (2011, June), A Model for Multidisciplinary Experiences for Undergraduates that Promotes Retention and Pipeline to Graduate School Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17347

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