June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Women in Engineering
13.733.1 - 13.733.11
Integrated research, education, and outreach experiences for undergraduates at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Abstract
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs, such as those supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), provide an excellent tool to help recruit and retain females and underrepresented minorities in engineering, which is crucial to our nation’s economic survival. Integrated research, education, and outreach experiences were offered for 8-9 females and underrepresented minorities per year in a Bioengineering REU at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, over a three-year period. The goals of our program were to provide inquiry-based research and training opportunities for female undergraduates, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups, along with the opportunity to participate in an outreach program that benefits the undergraduates as well as middle-school interns. The REU students’ interaction with middle-school students was facilitated by the creation of a two-week (half-day) mentored internship program, called the Bio-Discovery Program. Experience as mentors provides a form of civic engagement that helps the REU students realize their ability to influence the next generation of engineers and scientists. For the middle-school students, participation increases their interest in science and their retention in essential math and science courses that will allow them to pursue engineering as an academic discipline.
A multifaceted evaluation of our program, conducted primarily by an external consultant, included surveys of faculty advisors, open-ended questionnaires for faculty and student participants, focus groups with REU students, and evaluation of final research presentations. Parents of middle-school students were surveyed to assess the effectiveness of the mentoring program. Ongoing assessment includes collecting longitudinal data on sustained interest in research (for example, graduate school application) by the REU alumni, but this data is not yet available. We were able to recruit a diverse group of female students and give them exposure to biomedical engineering research. For 52% of program participants, this was their first research experience of any kind. We had a positive impact on influencing the career path of the REU participants, according to their self-reported plans. The mentoring program has been very successful, as indicated by the number of return attendees and alumni of the Bio-Discovery program, who recommend their younger sisters or friends to the program. According to our assessment data, the Bio-Discovery Program has been the most rewarding part of the program for several of the REU participants, even though it also presented a challenge, as it limits the amount of time REU students can dedicate exclusively to their research projects. With our recommendations for improvement, this program can be adopted by other faculty who wish to incorporate middle-school outreach into an REU program.
Motivation for Developing the REU Program
Although more B.S. degrees are awarded to females in U.S. institutions than males when considering all disciplines together, females still account for considerably less than half of the B.S. recipients in engineering. The percentages are lower when considering advanced degrees,
Camesano, T., & DiBiasio, D., & Billiar, K., & Rolle, M., & Zhou, S. (2008, June), Incorporating K 12 Outreach Into An Reu Program For Females Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/4156
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