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An Assessment Plan for Evaluating a Four Site Undergraduate Research Program in Biofuels and Biorefining Engineering

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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

Impact of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill on Chemical Engineering Education & Misc.

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.165.1 - 22.165.9



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Paper Authors


Daniel Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

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Daniel W. Knight is the engineering assessment specialist at the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program (ITLL) and the Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the Louisiana State University, and an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, evaluation and research for the ITL Program’s and BOLD Center's hands-on initiatives.

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Frances C. Ray-Earle University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels (C2B2)

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Frances C. Ray-Earle is the center coordinator for the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2), a collaborative research and education center of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of San Diego and is an M.B.A. candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Ms. Ray-Earle oversees undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and professional-level research and education programming; additionally she manages corporate sponsor relationships, fiscal budgeting and intellectual property management at the center.

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Nancy S. Tway University of Colorado

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Nancy S. Tway is the Financial Coordinator and Center Assistant for the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2). Ms. Tway holds a B.S degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University. Her current duties include accounting functions for the center, planning and administering the C2B2/NSF REU program, and website and newsletter generation.

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An Assessment Plan for Evaluating a Four Site Undergraduate Research Program in Biofuels and Biorefining EngineeringUndergraduate research has become an area of increasing emphasis in engineering education forthe purposes of enhancing the educational experience of undergraduates, retainingundergraduates, and motivating graduates to enroll in graduate school. The National ScienceFoundation has provided support for this effort through The Research Experiences forUndergraduates (REU) program which provides funding for involving undergrads in on-goingresearch programs. The present study investigates one such REU program via the developmentof an assessment plan and an evaluation of assessment results.This undergraduate program is organized around four research sites, three campuses and onenational laboratory, all centered in one metropolitan area and focused on biofuels and biorefiningengineering. The goals of the undergraduate research program are as follows: Engage student participants in the pursuit of fundamental investigations of issues related to conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals, Integrate the REU site to allow students to experience a collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment to investigate problems that require such collaboration to make meaningful progress, Train students in the skills and knowledge to conduct research. Recruit a competitive and diverse group of 12 undergraduate students annually from across the countryTwenty students participated in the program and were assessed by a variety of qualitative andquantitative methods. Quantitative methods include a pre and post-content test to assess learningof research methods, a student post-program survey to assess program outcomes, a six-monthfollow-up survey to determine whether outcomes have been sustained, and a student mentorpost-survey to provide an alternative perspective to student self-reported information. Qualitativemethods included a mid-program focus group conducted with students at each site as well as apost-program structured interview. Program assessment results were reviewed and evaluatedwith program directors and coordinators at a debrief following the completion of the program.Results revealed successes on each of the REU program goals as well as suggestions forimprovement. Highlights from the results include 100% of students obtaining reportable resultsfrom their projects, 90% interested in attending graduate school, and 85% interested in a bio-energy career. One student commented, “This summer has been awesome! I have never doneresearch like this before, so I really loved getting to be in the lab and get a feel for what researchis like. It has really made me sure that I want to go to grad school.” Areas of future improvementinclude additional organization of the projects at the beginning of the program and greater effortsto teach students about research efforts going on in other program laboratories than the onewhere they were placed. Additional results and discussion will be included in the paper.

Knight, D., & Ray-Earle, F. C., & Tway, N. S. (2011, June), An Assessment Plan for Evaluating a Four Site Undergraduate Research Program in Biofuels and Biorefining Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17446

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