Asee peer logo

An Interdisciplinary Team-based Research Initiative Through Active Learning to Increase Undergraduate Students’ Motivation, Engagement, and Retention

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Active & Cooperative Learning in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Shahnam Mirzaei California State University, Northridge

visit author page

Dr. Shahnam Mirzaei is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the California State University, Northridge. He has received his Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in the area of Electrical and Computer Engineering at 2010, His M.Sc. from California State University, Northridge, and his B.Sc. from University of Tehran. Dr. Mirzaei has worked as an application engineer for six years from 2000 to 2005 with focus on problem solving and resolving design issues with regards to Xilinx FPGAs and SoCs. After receiving his Ph.D., he has worked as an R&D engineer in the area of signal processing for three years from 2010 to 2013.
Dr. Mirzaei started his academic job as an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge at 2013. His research interests fall into the realm of reconfigurable hardware, signal and image processing, and embedded systems. In recent years, he has focused on developing techniques for hardware acceleration of software algorithms and implementing signal processing applications on on reconfigurable hardware. Dr. Mirzaei has been the recipient of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Fellowship Award in Spring 2010 from University of California, Santa Barbara, Radar Systems Spot Award Achievement Certificate in recognition of superior individual effort for developing signal processing algorithms, in February 2011 from Exelis (currently known as Harris Corp.), Inc. and 59th Annual National Engineers Outstanding Engineering Achievement Merit Award in Universal City, California in February 2014. He has collaborated actively with researchers in several other disciplines of, particularly computer architecture, reconfigurable hardware, and signal and image processing. He has been a member of Technical Program Committee for International Conference on ReConFigurable Computing and FPGAs in 2013 and IEEE Journal of Transactions on VLSI Systems in 2016.

visit author page

author page

Ana Cristina Cadavid

author page

Vicki A. Pedone California State University Northridge

Download Paper |


Recent engineering education research point out several key problems that engineering students experience during the academic years. Electrical, Electronics, and Computer Engineering majors are not exception to this. The key issues vary from one major to another but some can be pointed out such as: low motivation, low retention rate in engineering programs, switch to other majors or drop out from engineering program, poor teaching and advising, the difficulty of the engineering curriculum, and a lack of “belonging” within engineering majors. Statistics indicate a large drop in the continuation rate between the first and third years among Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) students. As students encounter increasing course difficulty in the early stages of their programs, they often lack motivation to persist because they have weak connections to their majors and potential careers in STEM. This paper describes an active learning team based experience. “Summer Interdisciplinary Team Experience” (SITE) is a summer short program to address some of the concerns engineering students face today by engaging students in the learning process. The SITE, part of the National Science Foundation Science Talent Expansion Program aimed at increasing the number of bachelor degrees awarded in STEM fields, focused on students finishing sophomore-level courses in engineering, math, and physical sciences. The primary goal of SITE was to create a STEM community through participation in small research projects that students worked collaboratively on from concept to completion. In this 3-week summer program, students in interdisciplinary teams of ten worked closely with faculty mentors to develop solutions to socially relevant STEM problems. The nature of the problems focused more on the engineering aspect and problem solving skills rather than strong technical content and furthermore they were intentionally chosen so that they needed less mathematical background. SITE is open to majors in computer science (CS), engineering (ENG), mathematics (MATH) and physical sciences (SCI, Biochemistry and Chemistry, Geological Sciences, and Physics and Astronomy). The program focuses on these majors because the number of graduates in these fields is low compared to those in other majors such as Biology. The goals of SITE are to increase students’ critical thinking, teamwork skills, and motivation to eventually increase student engagement, motivation, retention rate, and obtain a bachelor’s degree in their fields. The experience of using their STEM knowledge to solve a problem that has socioeconomic and/or ecological/resource relevance affirms the importance of STEM careers and inspires them to graduate in these majors. We will describe the criteria for the student as well as faculty mentor selection process in detail. The demographics of the student participants and assessment of the results will be discussed. At this early stage of students’ educational careers, SITE represented one of the first times that many of these students were able to engage in important aspects of engineering career. After getting the SITE experience, students did benefit from: • Working in teams • Working with students of different backgrounds • Exposure to other fields • Meeting faculty on a close basis • Working on projects with real applications and constraints • Integrating material learned in courses to solve complex problems • Opportunity to think about careers in industry • Stronger resume for future career applications • Going through the process of making an engineering product from concept to completion

In this paper, we will give an introduction to different components of the SITE program. Then we will introduce the SITE projects over the life of this research program from 2011 to 2016. In the fall semester preceding an upcoming SITE program, faculty submit proposals for team projects. The selection of final projects by the STEPS’ principal investigators (PIs) is based on the relevance of the topic to the goals of SITE and the potential for engaging students with challenging hands-on activities. The scale and scope of projects must be appropriate to the 3-week time frame and information and tools needed to solve it, to development and testing of ideas/devices, to the final presentation of possible solutions. Each project under SITE program is led by a faculty member from the CECS (college of engineering and computer science). Specifically we will discuss two SITE projects in great detail in the area of Electrical and Computer Engineering. At first, the common elements of all projects are discussed. This includes course syllabus, introduction to topics, foundation of the project topic, methods of research, initial presentation by the instructor that provides the technical knowledge needed to implement the project, and so on. To be eligible, students must have completed at least one semester of calculus, one laboratory science course, and one additional course in their majors. This paper is the result of the collaboration of primary investigators (PIs) and a faculty mentor leading a couple of projects within SITE program. In the following we will discuss two projects introduced in 2015 and 2016 by the faculty mentor in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department in more detail and provide in depth review of these projects. We will discuss the objectives of these projects and what students were expected to learn in these experiences. Different assignments and practices will be discussed and the outcomes will be reviewed. I. Autonomous Collaborative Exploration: An Attempt to Learn Robot/Environment Interaction (2015) II. Where Art Meets Science: Evolution of Imaging through Light and Color (2016)

Mirzaei, S., & Cadavid, A. C., & Pedone, V. A. (2019, June), An Interdisciplinary Team-based Research Initiative Through Active Learning to Increase Undergraduate Students’ Motivation, Engagement, and Retention Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32076

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015