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Early lessons learned from pivoting an REU program to a virtual format

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Laila Guessous Oakland University

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Laila Guessous, Ph.D. is a professor in the department of mechanical engineering at Oakland University (OU) in Rochester, MI. Her research and teaching interests lie in the areas of fluid mechanics and heat transfer, with an emphasis on computational methods. She is the program director for the NSF-funded
AERIM REU program at OU and was a co-PI on the Oakland University WISE@OU NSF ADVANCE Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation, and Dissemination (PAID) grant. She is actively involved in mentoring both students and faculty in STEM.

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Dan DelVescovo Oakland University

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Dr. Dan DelVescovo is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester Michigan. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Engine Research Center in 2016, and his teaching and research focus is in the areas of Internal Combustion Engines, Advanced Combustion, Thermodynamics, and Heat Transfer.

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Darlene Groomes Oakland University

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Dr. Groomes is Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Development and Child Studies at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Within the Special Education-Autism Area, she teaches courses in research, counseling issues, human-animal interactions, and collaboration within performance management teams. Her research interests include performance management/program evaluation in vocational rehabilitation, effective employment outcomes and policy directions in vocational rehabilitation, and psychological adaptation to disability. She is a Michigan Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a nationally Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC). Dr. Groomes was the 2016-2018 Chair of the National Commission on Rehabilitation Counseling Certification Standards & Examination Committee; a Past President of the Rehabilitation Program Evaluation Network (RPEN); and continues to serve as program evaluator on several collaborative grants at Oakland University in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, and in the Department of Chemistry.

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Since the summer of 2006, the NSF-funded AERIM Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program in the department of Mechanical Engineering at Oakland University has been offering rich research, professional development, networking and cohort-building experiences to undergraduate students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. With a focus on hands-on automotive and energy research projects and a proximity to many automotive companies, the program has been successful at attracting a diverse group of students. In fact, a total of 104 students from 70 different universities have participated in the program over the past 15 years, with about 70% of the participants coming from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in engineering (women in particular). Most research projects have been team-based and have typically involved experimental and analytical work with perhaps a handful of numerical simulation-based projects over the years. Prior assessment has shown that students greatly valued and benefited from interacting with faculty mentors, industry professionals, industry tours, and each other.

As a result of limitations placed on in-person meeting and on-campus activities impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the program had to pivot to a virtual format in the summer of 2021. This virtual format brought about several challenges and opportunities, which will be discussed in this paper. Despite the virtual format, the program was successful at attracting a diverse group of students in 2021. Twelve undergraduate students from eight different institutions took part remotely in the program and encompassed several time zones ranging from Eastern Standard Time to Alaska Standard Time. The 2021 cohort included seven women, three underrepresented minorities, and two students with a reported disability. Also noteworthy is the fact that half of the students were first generation in college students. While the PIs were happy with the student make up, running the program in a virtual format was very challenging. For one, what was traditionally a hands-on, experimental research program had to pivot to completely simulation/analytical based projects. This brought about issues related to remote access to software, time lags and difficulties with engaging students while computer simulations were running remotely. While the program was able to offer several seminars and meetings with industry professionals in a virtual fashion, it was not possible to provide industry tours or the casual conversations that would spontaneously occur when meeting face to face with industry professionals. Finally, with students logging in from their homes across the country and across different time zones rather than living together in the Oakland University dorms, the usual bonding and group interactions that would normally occur over the summer were difficult to replicate. In this paper we discuss what was learned from these challenges and how the virtual format also offered opportunities that will be utilized in future years.

Guessous, L., & DelVescovo, D., & Groomes, D. (2022, August), Early lessons learned from pivoting an REU program to a virtual format Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--42037

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