July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Participation in undergraduate research increases understanding, confidence, and awareness of opportunities in STEM fields. Approximately 45% of [BLIND] students participate in research on or off campus. Comparatively, less than 1% of students from the three cohorts of [BLIND] program at that institution participated in research. Based on student initiative to gain research exposure, a group of [BLIND] students, faculty, and staff co-developed an undergraduate research mentorship program focused on working in the field of soft robotics. The program is aimed at providing exposure to research within the first undergraduate years. The goal is to involve students in the culture of research - publishing papers, attending conferences, and mentoring other students, all shown to have positive outcomes for undergraduate students and promote further exploration of research opportunities. Here we describe the development, structure, and outcomes of the all-undergraduate soft robotics research program. Soft robots replace traditional hard components with compliant materials and flexible electronics. The research has several attributes that make it amenable to undergraduate work. They can be made from common, low-cost materials. The nascent field allows for novel contributions from young students. The field is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on traditional mechanical and electrical principles to use new materials for human-centered, biomedical applications. Students in years one and two of the [BLIND] program, have not yet declared an engineering major. Soft robotics allows these students to experience hands-on projects relevant to multiple fields. In this program students from diverse backgrounds and intended majors, collaborate to develop biodegradable actuators and testing platforms toward implantable, biocompatible robotic devices. A bioengineering faculty member oversees the work, guiding students while providing space for experimentation. Students begin with onboarding activities including safety training, actuator fabrication, 3D printing workshops, CAD training, and an introduction to microcontroller function. With these foundational skills, students work towards technical goals with freedom to explore different aspects of the multifaceted project throughout the semester. In addition to technical skills, students are provided professional development and career readiness coaching aligned with the National Association of Colleges and Employers, Center for Career Development, and Talent Acquisition® Career Readiness Competencies. Workshops are delivered by subject-matter experts, further facilitating networking and community building. In weekly group meetings, students present progress on goals, discuss current literature, and practice career-readiness skills. The direction of the program is reevaluated regularly giving students agency in what they learn. Learning outcomes are evaluated by analyzing results of the Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment. Students in this program experience authentic research scholarship and innovate in the field of soft robotics, presenting their work at discipline-specific conferences and preparing publications. Mentees have the opportunity to transition to a mentor role. This paper describes the development and structure of the research program and student outcomes. Reflections from students, staff, and faculty and recommendations for developing similar programs are included. Engaging students in hands-on research builds their confidence to succeed within engineering, further develops their ability to balance individual and collaborative work, and encourages curiosity through self-learning.
Radecka, A., & Bradshaw, A., & Cardenas, J., & Lamer, S. X., & James, I. H., & Golecki, H. M. (2021, July), Development of Multidisciplinary, Undergraduate-Led Research Program in Soft Robotics Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/36973
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