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Importance of Undergraduate Research: Efficacy and Student Perceptions

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Mentoring, Advising, and Facilitating Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Sudhir Kaul Western Carolina University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Kaul is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Western Carolina University. His research interests include Fracture Diagnostics, Structural Dynamics and Control, and Motorcycle Dynamics.

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Chip W. Ferguson Western Carolina University

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Chip Ferguson is the Associate Dean of the Kimmel School and Associate Professor of Engineering and Technology at Western Carolina University.

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Paul M. Yanik Western Carolina University

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Dr. Paul Yanik is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology at Western Carolina University. His areas of research include human-robot interactions, assistive devices, pattern recognition, machine learning, and engineering education.

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Yanjun Yan Western Carolina University Orcid 16x16

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Yanjun Yan received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from Harbin Institute of Technology (China), and the M.S. degree in Applied Statistics and the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University. She is an assistant professor in engineering and technology at Western Carolina University. Her research interests are statistical signal processing, diagnostics, and particle swarm optimization.

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Undergraduate research has emerged as a high-impact approach that can be used to enhance student engagement and to enrich student learning experiences.1 It is observed in the literature that undergraduate research can have an impact on student retention, and possibly attract women and ethnic minorities to science-related disciplines while playing an important role in the determination of career paths for participating students.2, 3, 4 While there are multiple studies on the impact of undergraduate research in social sciences and sciences, there is limited literature in the engineering disciplines. This limited literature may be attributed to multiple reasons such as a significant emphasis on mathematics and science in the first two years of engineering curriculum, a strictly sequential degree path, and a lack of flexibility in the program requirements. Engineering students often report difficulty in relating the theoretical content of the first few semesters to actual engineering applications. This study investigates the effectiveness of undergraduate research as a possible means of overcoming these student perceptions. Students are introduced to well-defined research projects at an early stage of their undergraduate degree program by adopting a scaffolding approach. The primary focus of this study is to understand student perceptions about undergraduate research in the engineering and engineering technology disciplines, with the aim of enhancing student experiences through strong mentorship and a careful choice of research projects. A survey has been developed to understand student perceptions as well as the perceptions of a few faculty mentors. The survey results are analyzed to understand whether any changes need to be made to the framework that has been adopted to introduce students to undergraduate research. Survey results from twenty six students involved in undergraduate research as part of the requirements for a scholarship program are evaluated. Subjective evaluations from a few faculty members involved in mentoring some of these undergraduate researchers are also discussed. Although both students and faculty mentors acknowledge the impact of undergraduate research experiences, some students are ambivalent about the relevance of research to academic performance. It is also observed that excessive project complexity may result in reducing student motivation unless students receive adequate support in the form of strong mentorship and appropriate guidance.

Kaul, S., & Ferguson, C. W., & Yanik, P. M., & Yan, Y. (2016, June), Importance of Undergraduate Research: Efficacy and Student Perceptions Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25599

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