June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.99.1 - 15.99.10
A Summer Transitional Program for an Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Research Project: Planning and Assessment
This paper describes the planning and assessment of a summer transitional program as part of a multi-year undergraduate research project. The summer program is a focused, project-based learning experience for undergraduate students in engineering at two universities with significantly different demographics – one, a top-tier research university and the other, a smaller private university focusing on undergraduate education. The two universities are working closely with an industry partner who is providing materials and expertise and who may eventually incorporate into their manufacturing process the technology being developed in this project. The students are juniors and seniors involved in independent study or capstone project courses. The project is based in materials science and engineering and includes process design, characterization and testing.
One goal of engineering education is to prepare students to become effective members of multidisciplinary teams to address increasingly complex problems. Students who are taught to solve only those problems that have been set up specifically for the purpose of demonstrating or reinforcing a particular set of tools and analysis techniques will be at a disadvantage when faced with the highly complex issues of the real world1. Therefore, it is important that students be exposed to open-ended, real-world problems that incorporate design elements2,3 while in a supportive academic environment.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and the University of Hartford, along with an industrial partner, Taylor Guitars, have initiated a multi-year, joint senior research/independent study project involving three distinct engineering disciplines. The project, now in its second year, involves the development of a microwave curing process for polymer coatings on instrument woods. The first year involved two groups of students: three materials science and engineering majors from Virginia Tech and two acoustical engineering majors from the University of Hartford. The students worked independently on senior projects at their respective universities, but collaborated and shared materials and knowledge. The academic year culminated in a joint submission to the Journal of Undergraduate Materials Research and a visit to the industrial partner to share the results and plan the next step in the project.
Over the past academic year, a completely new set of students from each university worked on the project. Another group two of students in computer engineering joined the project to add a new dimension to the research that was not pursued in the first year of work. During the first year and in the transition process, several issues emerged as obstacles to technical progress and that demonstrated student deficiencies.
≠ Progress on undergraduate projects tends to stall as students graduate or leave and new students start.
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