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Board 99: Learning through Discovery: Empowering Lower Division Undergraduates to Engage in Cross-Disciplinary Research

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Nina Robson California State University, Fullerton

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Dr. Nina Robson is an associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at California State University at Fullerton.

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Cynthia Gautreau California State University Fullerton

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Dr. Gautreau is a veteran educator with 25 years of teaching experience. She currently serves as the Director of the MS in Instructional Design and Technology Program at CSU Fullerton.

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Madeline E. Rasche California State University, Fullerton

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Madeline Rasche earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Riverside and was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Florida for ten years before serving as a National Science Foundation program director for one year. In 2008, Dr. Rasche joined the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at California State University, Fullerton as a Full Professor, where she directs a research program that uses biotechnology, biochemistry, and computational approaches to understand the molecular basis of microbial methane production.

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Active participation in undergraduate research is a high impact practice shown to play a valuable role in enhancing the educational experience of undergraduate science and engineering majors. In addition to endorsing learner-centered approaches and participation in discovery-driven research, the National Research Council (NRC) promotes the development of genuinely interdisciplinary courses and curricula, leading to scientists and engineers capable of combining specialized disciplinary knowledge with fluency in complementary disciplines. This vision is consistent with a recent report of the California Life Sciences Institute that workforce-ready biotechnology candidates tend to be equipped with soft skills (communication, leadership, ability to work in multidisciplinary teams) as well as experience in (or an aptitude for) using modern data-driven approaches in science, such as robotics, informatics, bioengineering, computational modeling. The authors have combined the NRC strategies with the California Life Sciences Institute calls for authentic cross-disciplinary experiences by integrating research-based high-impact practices into a lower division undergraduate course on Early Experiences in Bioengineering/Biotechnology, involving students from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the College of Engineering and Computer Science. The program includes the Spring semester during freshmen year, a summer internship, and the Fall semester during sophomore year. The curriculum activities are designed to strengthen the lower division foundation for authentic cross-disciplinary undergraduate research productivity and preparation for jobs in the biotechnology workforce. Our preliminary direct pre- and post-course self-assessment survey results show that for the limited time of one spring semester and four weeks of summer internship, the program enhanced the students’ (i) readiness for cross-disciplinary research by 32%, (ii) preparation for upper division research by 25%, (iii) acquisition of laboratory problem solving by 28%, scientific communication skills by 28%, and (iv) scientific research literacy by 26%. The survey also reveals that neither the engineering, nor the biological concepts were easy or very difficult for the students spanning both colleges, which means that the course activities and projects were well balanced. On average, the students shared that the biological concepts were a bit more difficult than the mechanical engineering concepts (65% v/s 62.5%). Standardized pre-/post-summer experience survey was also used to assess the impact of the course modifications on the participants’ scientific self-efficacy and impression of research (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience, CURE)[20]. The results from the CURE survey at the end of the Summer 2018 show that out of the 21 comparative learning gains, the EGGN 122 freshmen and sophomore were higher than the national average in 11 and lower than the average in 5 gains. In response to the survey results, the last semester of the program involved improving the students’ preparation for upper division research and scientific communication skills, through a pilot Directed Studies section offered in Fall 2018. The results revealed that the additional sophomore-level pilot section, further enhanced the students’ preparation for cross-disciplinary research, preparation for upper division research, scientific research literacy, acquisition of laboratory problem solving and substantially improved the students’ scientific communication skills by additional 25%. The feedback will be used to improve course for second course offerings in Spring 2019.

Robson, N., & Gautreau, C., & Rasche, M. E. (2019, June), Board 99: Learning through Discovery: Empowering Lower Division Undergraduates to Engage in Cross-Disciplinary Research Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32476

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