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Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes During Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.231.1 - 13.231.13



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Paper Authors


Olga Pierrakos James Madison University

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OLGA PIERRAKOS is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at James Madison University. Dr. Pierrakos holds a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her research interests are cardiovascular fluid mechanics and engineering education research, which includes engineering assessment, undergraduate research, design education methodologies, epistemologies of interdisciplinary education, and K-12 engineering education.

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Maura Borrego Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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MAURA BORREGO is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and engineering education, including studies of the collaborative relationships between engineers and education researchers. Investigations of interdisciplinary graduate programs nationwide are funded through her NSF CAREER award.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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JENNY LO is an advanced instructor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Lo is the co-coodinator of the first semester engineering course at Virginia Tech, and her research interests include undergraduate research, curriculum development and engineering ethics instruction.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes during Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences


Highly promoted and funded by NSF and other agencies, undergraduate research experiences have many benefits to students and also present a great opportunity for them to learn globally competitive skills. Having recruited 22 NSF REU sites nationwide to participate in this study, we present findings of students’ (Pre-survey N=235 and Post-survey N=275) self-assessments of their learning outcomes using a validated survey instrument, National Engineering Students’ Learning Outcomes Survey (NESLOS), which was derived from ABET criteria. Key findings of what students learned and valued, insight into how the undergraduate research experience can be improved, and student career path goals are presented. These findings can aid program directors, coordinators, and undergraduate research faculty advisors to improve their program and assessment efforts.


Global competitiveness, outsourcing, and increased production of overseas engineers are issues that are becoming increasingly relevant in undergraduate engineering education and have prompted a number of calls to protect U.S. global competitiveness. All these reports have challenged engineering institutions to produce graduates with professional as well as technical skills by outlining the desired attributes for graduating engineers.

Undergraduate research experiences, which are highly promoted and supported by NSF and other agencies, present a great opportunity for our students to learn these essential globally competitive skills. Some of the benefits of undergraduate research are: (a) applying skills and knowledge learned in the classroom, (b) working with state-of-the-art processes, equipment, and tools, (c) gaining critical thinking skills, (d) gaining self-confidence, and (e) promoting advanced degrees and clarifying career goals. In spite of such widespread support and belief in the value of undergraduate research to improve education, the bodies-of-knowledge and learning outcomes comprising of the countless ways in which students benefit and learn from being involved in research projects have been insufficient and understudied. Most of the existing literature reveal the predominance of program descriptions and evaluation efforts, rather than studies grounded on research. Moreover, most of these studies on undergraduate research have focused on the sciences, whereas undergraduate research experiences in engineering are limited.

One of the most prominent studies on undergraduate research has been the work of Elaine Seymour and her research group 1-2. Their five-year study on undergraduate research in STEM disciplines focused on four liberal arts colleges with a long history of undergraduate research programs. The work presented a comparative analysis of faculty and administrator interviews (N=80) with student interviews (N=76) and provides findings of the role of undergraduate research in encouraging intellectual, personal and professional development of undergraduate student researchers. Although the work of Seymour et al. revealed findings pertaining to attitudes toward graduate school and research, as well as confidence levels and other gains in skills, the

Pierrakos, O., & Borrego, M., & Lo, J. (2008, June), Assessing Students’ Learning Outcomes During Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3668

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