June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.81.1 - 14.81.7
A One Week Intensive Short Course for Introducing Lower Division Students to Undergraduate Research
This paper describes a short course used to introduce students to an undergraduate research environment at Washington State University, a rural residential land grant university. The course runs the week after classes end, and consists of nine topics presented in half day module formats. The program has run since the summer of 2007, and has served 32 students as of fall 2008. Students from engineering and science majors from across campus were selected from applications solicited from primarily first year students, though the program also included first year transfer students. The paper will describe the modules, ranging from gaining library skills to research based career options to finding an advisor and best practices for poster presentations. Students were provided a stipend for housing during that week, and a stipend for research expenses during the subsequent semesters. The paper will also discuss the retention rates and motivation surveys from the program. The students selected for the program had a GPA average similar to the college as a whole, and over 90% have been retained in STEM fields. Survey results suggest that one critical aspect of involving students in this program was a modest stipend to ensure financial concerns do not preclude participation for the students.
Campus-wide undergraduate research programs at schools around the country support activities for a wide range of students. Many of these students have had little or no prior experience working in a laboratory research environment. Consequently, many university faculty, undergraduate research directors, and others involved in organizing college- and campus-wide activities anecdotally comment on the challenge of integrating these students into undergraduate research programs. This occurs both in providing the students with fundamental information about the process of research, as well as helping students understand the types of roles undergraduate researchers play in engineering research activities. Many of the ideas and plans in place or in progress at the nation’s research institutions are based on ideas laid out in the Boyer Commission report1.
Many of the larger public research schools struggle with low retention rates in STEM fields; for instance, at Washington State University (WSU) freshman to senior retention in engineering fluctuates year by year between 45% and 48%. As noted in the literature2, the independent aspect of research in STEM fields is often a capstone, held until the end of the curriculum as a culminating experience. However, it has been found that the retention rate of students in STEM increases with participation in undergraduate research; at WSU we have found that retention rates can double for students participating in research activities3. Undergraduate research is regularly noted in the National Survey of Student Engagement as a significant way to improve student learning4. Thus, undergraduate research programs, including those that incorporate coursework and/or peer mentorship, should increase student engagement and retention, particularly if they occur in the first two years of the college experience. It should be noted here that addressing community college transfer students, a source of almost 50% of the
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