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Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers on a Large-Scale Experimental Research Project: A Case Study

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Mentoring Graduate Students, Diversity, and Assessment

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering and Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.756.1 - 22.756.20



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Paper Authors


Gregg L. Fiegel California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Gregg L. Fiegel is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo. He is a registered Professional Engineer in California, and he serves as the ASCE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor. Dr. Fiegel received his B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly in 1990. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Davis in 1992 and 1995, respectively.

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Ben Mason University of California, Berkeley

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Ben Mason is currently a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. His main research interests are geotechnical earthquake engineering, soil-structure-interaction and physical modeling. Ben completed his undergraduate degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2006.

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Nicholas W. Trombetta University of California, San Diego

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Nick Trombetta is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Structural Engineering at the University of California, San Diego. His current research interests include soil-structure interaction, earthquake engineering, and seismic design. Nick completed his B.S. in Civil Engineering at the University of Virginia in 2008 and his M.S. in Structural Engineering at UCSD in 2010.

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Graduate Student Leaders Mentoring Undergraduate Student Researchers - A Case StudyAbstractDuring the past two years, five civil and architectural engineering students have worked asundergraduate student researchers on a research project supported by five universities. The four-year project involves a relatively large research team, which includes six investigators, a post-doctoral researcher, six graduate students (to date), and five equipment technicians. The researchinvestigation focuses on soil-structure interaction during earthquakes and includes an extensiveexperimental (i.e. laboratory) component. Due to the project scope, the undergraduate studentresearchers served as essential team members during the most recent laboratory testing. Thesestudents contributed to model construction, equipment design, instrumentation calibration, datacollection, data analysis, experiment documentation, and reporting. The undergraduate studentwork assignments lasted from eight to ten weeks and occurred during all times of the year.Further, the undergraduates completed their research at three different universities and wereadvised and mentored primarily by graduate students.In this paper, we discuss our strategies and experiences in recruiting, training, advising, andmentoring the undergraduate researchers. We also discuss the methods used to prepare thegraduate students for their roles as research mentors. The principal investigators worked withthe graduate student leaders to provide tips and some specific training on topics such asteamwork, project management, communication, feedback, and student learning. As anexample, the graduate student leaders completed an exercise on communication styles near thebeginning of the project. The objective of this exercise was to enhance communication betweenteam members by emphasizing the fact that team members communicate differently and byproviding techniques for the graduate students to tailor their own communication style to fit theneeds of others. We briefly describe this exercise in the paper, along with others. In addition,we discuss specific ways in which we assessed the undergraduate students' project experiences.We provide examples of different work products prepared by the undergraduates, and we presentthe results of post-employment assessment surveys. These surveys were developed by thegraduate student leaders and a principal investigator. The survey results indicate that theundergraduate research experiences have been challenging and rewarding. The survey resultsalso provide valuable feedback for the graduate student leaders. At the mid-point of the project,the graduate student leaders are using the feedback to develop specific recommendations formanaging the research project and mentoring undergraduate students in the future. Theserecommendations are summarized in the paper.

Fiegel, G. L., & Mason, B., & Trombetta, N. W. (2011, June), Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers on a Large-Scale Experimental Research Project: A Case Study Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18037

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