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Getting Real: The Challenges Of Using Written Products Of Undergraduate Research To Achieve Multiple Educational Objectives

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.520.1 - 6.520.16



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Paper Authors

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Michael Gorman

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Edmund Russell III

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Donald Brown

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William Scherer

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Kathryn Neeley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3261

Getting Real: The Challenges of Using Written Products of Undergraduate Research to Achieve Multiple Educational Goals

Kathryn A. Neeley, Edmund P. Russell III, Donald E. Brown, Michael E. Gorman, and William T. Scherer University of Virginia

I. Introduction

This paper explores the frontiers of an interesting problem that is highlighted by the Engineering Criteria 2000 (EC 2000)—the need to make the written deliverables produced through undergraduate research serve multiple purposes in demonstrating that a “major design experience” has achieved a wide range of intended goals. The University of Virginia’s engineering school has both an undergraduate thesis that has been required of every student since the early 1900s and an established Systems Engineering capstone project that has been in place since 1988. Both projects treat constraints in areas such as economics, the environment, ethics, politics, sustainability, and social considerations as integral parts of engineering problem solving and decision-making. In so doing, they anticipated and reflect the integrated approach of EC 2000.

Most students who major in Systems Engineering (SE) use their capstone project as the basis for the undergraduate thesis, which is jointly advised and must be jointly approved by a faculty member from the humanities and social sciences (HSS) and the student’s capstone group advisor. Because the students must communicate and document their undergraduate thesis research in a way that satisfies both experts in their fields and non-experts, they face a task that is demanding but also quite effective in preparing them to communicate with the range of audiences they must satisfy in the world of practice. (The Systems Engineering students have a separate set of capstone deliverables that include a final group report.) Because the major thesis-related documents (proposal and final report) are bound, collected, and retained as part of our university library’s collection, they have the potential to function as a useful source of evidence that a wide range of the educational goals of our curriculum are being achieved.

Differences in the expectations, pedagogical objectives, and professional cultures of the HSS and technical advisors often become most visible as the advisors and students work together to shape the written proposal created early in the project and the final technical report that is produced at the project’s conclusion. For example, there is an apparent conflict between the HSS pedagogical objective of having students improve their communication skills through individual written and oral assignments and Systems Engineering’s and ABET’s emphasis on team work. The undergraduate thesis project has traditionally emphasized individual thought processes and independent thinking where a capstone project stresses effective group interaction, problem solving, and synthesis. A capstone project features a high level of interaction with a client

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Gorman, M., & Russell III, E., & Brown, D., & Scherer, W., & Neeley, K. (2001, June), Getting Real: The Challenges Of Using Written Products Of Undergraduate Research To Achieve Multiple Educational Objectives Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9304

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