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Development and Assessment of an Undergraduate Research Community

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Michelle K. Marincel Payne Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Michelle Marincel Payne is an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She completed her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her M.S. in environmental engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology, and her B.S. in nuclear engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla. During her graduate studies, Dr. Marincel Payne worked to evaluate the fate of pesticides in drinking water treatment plants, and to develop biomimetic membranes for desalination. Her current interests include undergraduate engineering research and education. Dr. Marincel Payne is co-leading an Undergraduate Research Community to support students learning through research, undergraduate research to remove stormwater pollutants via engineered treatment wetlands, development of courses and research related to appropriate technology with strong emphasis on social sustainability, and frameworks for integrating open-ended problems through students' curricula.

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Irene M.B. Reizman Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Irene M.B. Reizman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She holds a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research interests include metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, and impacts of undergraduate research experiences.

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Tony Ribera Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Tony Ribera serves as the Director of Assessment in the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He most recently worked at the Indiana University School of Medicine where he served as the Director of Program Evaluation in the Office of Medical Student Education. Tony has a PhD from Indiana University in Higher Education and Student Affairs.

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Julia M. Williams Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Julia M. Williams is Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities and Professor of English at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Her research areas include technical communication, assessment, accreditation, and the development of change management strategies for faculty and staff. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal of Engineering Education, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, and Technical Communication Quarterly, among others.

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Literature suggests real benefits to undergraduate research, including improving students’ understanding of the research process, their resilience, and their ability to persist through failure. However, at primarily undergraduate institutions, there are a number of challenges in making the undergraduate research experience successful for both students and faculty mentors. First, there is a significant burden on faculty mentors who, along with designing a research project, have typically been asked to individually advise students on applying for graduate study, train them in reading and writing about research, and critique posters and presentations. These are skills which could be addressed more broadly among all research students. Additionally, due to limited opportunities for group interactions during summer research and the number of faculty advising individual students, students may lack a research community for interaction and support.

To develop a set of best practices for undergraduate research at our institution and support both student and faculty development, we initiated an Undergraduate Research Community (URC) for the past two summers. Through the URC, we offered a number of workshops aimed at developing general research skills for students (reading and interpreting the literature, abstract writing, visualizing data, preparing posters, and applying to graduate school), along with social activities and opportunities to present their work informally. This paper will discuss the structure of the URC at the authors’ institution and related results from a survey developed to understand the impact of the summer research experience on student skills and attitudes. Before and after their research experience, students completed a self-assessment regarding their competency in research skills and feeling of involvement in the broader engineering community.

We see several positive outcomes from the URC. First, a large number of women underclassmen with one term or less of prior experience participated in summer research activities and in the URC in 2017 and 2018. Second, all students reported significant improvements in their abilities to engage in various research-related behaviors. Specifically, planning and designing experiments, using primary literature, and writing testable hypotheses were most significantly impacted when comparing pre- and post-survey data. Students also reported a significant increase in their confidence in designing experiments and performing research. When asked to identify three top areas improved as a result of their research experiences, communicating research findings rose to the top of the list. Perhaps most importantly, students noted that they felt part of the larger scientific and engineering community after their experience. Finally, over 75% plan to continue their research beyond the summer and pursue graduate school.

To build upon previous work, which has primarily relied on self-assessment by students, faculty, and alumni, we included several open-ended questions from a previously published assessment of student knowledge of experimental design, which were then evaluated by faculty according to a standard rubric. In addition, student and faculty mentor interviews were conducted to better understand areas of weakness and strengths of the URC. Based on these data, we hope to identify areas where our undergraduate research program can be improved, while also maintaining aspects of the program that are already highly beneficial to students.

Marincel Payne, M. K., & Reizman, I. M., & Ribera, T., & Williams, J. M. (2019, June), Development and Assessment of an Undergraduate Research Community Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32645

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