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Fostering Belonging through an Undergraduate Summer Internship: A Community of Practice Model for Engineering Research Education

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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

CEED Technical Session II: Developing Research and Design Skills Through Experiential Learning

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors

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Nicole Bowers Arizona State University


Michelle Jordan Arizona State University

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Michelle Jordan is as associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She also serves as the Education Director for the QESST Engineering Research Center. Michelle’s program of research focuses on social interactions in collaborative learning contexts. She is particularly interested in how students navigate communication challenges as they negotiate complex engineering design projects. Her scholarship is grounded in notions of learning as a social process, influenced by complexity theories, sociocultural theories, sociolinguistics, and the learning sciences.

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Kate Fisher

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Zachary Holman Arizona State University


Mathew D. Evans Arizona State University

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Mathew D Evans is currently a doctoral candidate at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University

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This research paper presents a case study of the design and implementation of an experiential internship program with structural elements intended to address undergraduates’ needs for inclusion and development. As a team of engineers and education researchers, the authors aimed at increasing disciplinary engagement and self-efficacy for an comprehensive range of engineering research practices through careful instructional design of a summer research experience for undergraduates (REU). Based on extensive scholarship on engineering education and professional practice, we developed a graphic model of engineering research processes that include design practices (frame problems, generate solutions, run experiments, analyze data), communication practices (communicate about one’s own and others work, read disciplinary literature), and metacognitive reflection. This model guided the design of a set of instructional scaffolds to support novice students into engineering. We interrogate the model’s value for guiding future program using a mixed-method design and Wenger's (2000) modes of belonging in a community of practice. Few studies provide insight into how structural elements of REU programs support positive outcomes (Gentile et al., 2017). Researchers are divided in their belief about effective ways to socialize students into engineering. Sadler, Burgin, McKinney and Ponjuan (2010) call for more explication of concepts, others call for more standardization in content delivery across research experiences (Linn, Palmer, Baranger, Gerald, & Stone, 2015) while still others call for complete open-endedness, embracing the apprenticeship as purely experiential learning (Emo, Emo, Kimn, & Gent, 2015). We contend that what is needed is a necessary tension between the affordances of contextualized experience offered by typical apprenticeship programs, and the affordances of more highly structured experiences traditionally enacted in classroom environments. Although the situated nature of REU programs presents an important opportunity for undergraduates to learn science through participation in cutting edge research, more scaffolding may be needed to support the development of self-efficacy and engagement for diverse students in REU programs. A comprehensive model of practices associated with the engineering research process, when used by program designers to guide program development and by participants as a cohering artifact, could provide such scaffolding. The context of this study was a nine-week summer REU program in electrical engineering. Participants included a diverse cohort of fourteen participating students from across the US: six female, eight from underrepresented minority groups, seven from community colleges. Data sources include surveys, interviews, observations, and program design notes. Using mixed-methods analyses, we present evidence that a model of distributed mentorship and learning projects explicitly scaffolding each element of our engineering research processes model supports a diverse undergraduate cohort in increased self-efficacy and engagement as they first encounter an authentic engineering community and engage in its practices. Results suggest implications for future practice and research.

Bowers, N., & Jordan, M., & Fisher, K., & Holman, Z., & Evans, M. D. (2019, June), Fostering Belonging through an Undergraduate Summer Internship: A Community of Practice Model for Engineering Research Education Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32856

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015