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Board # 29 :Research Needs Statements for Project Topic Selection: A Pilot Study in an Undergraduate Civil Engineering Transportation Course

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


V. Dimitra Pyrialakou West Virginia University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. V. Dimitra Pyrialakou joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University as an Assistant Professor in August 2016. She received her Diploma in Civil Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, in 2011 and in 2016 she earned a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Purdue University. Dr. Pyrialakou has worked on several projects involving public (mass) transportation, airport operations, and transportation planning and evaluation. Her current research focuses on sustainable planning and evaluation of public and rail transportation systems. Dr. Pyrialakou started working in the area of engineering education at Purdue University when she taught Introduction to Transportation Engineering in spring 2016. She currently explores topics related to undergraduate STEM education improvement, including connecting teaching, research, and practice; student retention in engineering; recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in engineering; and holistic engineering. Dr. Pyrialakou also teaches courses on transportation engineering, transportation/urban planning, and civil engineering/transportation data analysis.

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program, teaching and guiding the design of one of the required first-year engineering courses that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of modeling and design activities with authentic engineering contexts.

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Konstantina Gkritza Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Konstantina “Nadia” Gkritza is an Associate Professor in the Schools of Civil Engineering and Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. Dr. Gkritza has over 10 years of experience in the area of economic analysis of highway investments and modeling, transportation and energy interdependencies, highway safety and sustainability. She is also the co-Chair of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. Dr. Gkritza teaches courses on transportation engineering, economic analysis of highway investments, and transportation data analysis

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Literature recognizes that a research project’s initial stages, including identifying and selecting a research topic, are the most challenging steps of project development for college students in the U.S. Nevertheless, a very limited body of literature exists on topic identification and selection, especially for undergraduate studies in STEM fields. While the possibilities of using the web for teaching, learning, and discovery are limitless, students frequently report being overwhelmed by the superabundance of information combined with limited available time. Therefore, a key question is, Do online tools exist that can help students identify and select a topic that both interests them and is worth pursuing in terms of research and practice? The transportation engineering field offers a unique opportunity to explore this question using the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) extensive research needs statements (RNS) database.

The goal of this paper is to identify opportunities to improve instruction around the use of the RNS database as a means to identify and select a course project topic in transportation engineering. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, the TRB RNS database has never been used directly as an educational tool. Typically, for term projects in similar introductory transportation classes, either students select their topic based solely on their interests or the instructor assigns specific topics.

To achieve the research goal, the overarching research question being addressed in this paper is, What is the interplay among students’ topics of interest, the RNS selected, the proposal developed, and students’ individual experiences with the RNS database? This paper uses data collected in the spring 2016 offering of Introduction to Transportation Engineering, an elective undergraduate-level course offered every semester at Purdue University. This paper addresses the overarching research question through the description of three group cases of significance. In addition, a cross-case synthesis uses a simple qualitative comparison to compare and contrast the results from the case description components.

Findings are used to make recommendations about using field-specific and/or more general resources in an undergraduate engineering course to guide selection of a project topic.

Pyrialakou, V. D., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Gkritza, K. (2017, June), Board # 29 :Research Needs Statements for Project Topic Selection: A Pilot Study in an Undergraduate Civil Engineering Transportation Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27823

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