June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Two Year College Division
26.942.1 - 26.942.9
Incorporating Research and Design in a Community College Engineering ProgramTraditionally undergraduate research and design has been limited to four-year institutions,restricted to junior- and senior-level students. It is generally assumed that freshmen andsophomore students are ill-equipped to take on complex projects, particularly while muddlingthrough the basics of calculus, physics, and electronics. Our institution, through a partnershipwith the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), has been challenging that assumption.Students are being introduced to research and design methods in the very first semester andimmediately take on projects that are challenging, and most importantly, relevant to the studentsthemselves.Incorporating undergraduate research at the community college level presents unique challenges.The college will often not have the resources to fund an expensive laboratory or even provide asufficiently large space for testing. In addition, in an environment where the emphasis is oninstruction, taking on research students in addition to a heavy teaching load can be quite dauntingto faculty.To combat such challenges, rather than looking to faculty-driven research with student assistants,we emphasize student-driven research with faculty facilitators. Starting with the first semester,students are given wide latitude in developing class projects. Rigorous learning and designobjectives are still met, but the students have considerable flexibility in what kinds of projectsare done. This is continued throughout the curriculum. Students are nearly always doing designwork, creating prototypes, generating documentation, teaching others their methods, andpresenting their results – essentially developing all the fundamental skills of a quality researcher.At some point during this process, many of the braver students begin evolving class projects intofull-blown independent research. We provide additional opportunities for research throughtravel-study courses and with partnerships with the Honors College.The benefits to the students are great. They are gaining early experience in managing complexprojects, something their four-year counterparts will not usually see until a senior design class.They learn the importance of ordering parts early, of how to write a request for funding, andwhat to do when everything seems to go wrong. Since the work is student-driven, the studentbecomes the subject matter expert. This builds an enormous amount of confidence andenthusiasm.From a teaching perspective, we are very pleased with the results. This emphasis on researchand design has been particularly well-received by our local industry partners. In particular, theyappreciate that students are getting a great deal of practice presenting and speaking abouttechnical topics.As a result, we are seeing more students entering into research at the two-year level, and are alsobeginning to see students placed into research labs nationally during the summer. Even thosestudents not pursuing research are leaving the classroom better prepared for work in industry. Inthis paper, we will share our strategies, as well as preliminary results.
Andreas, A. K., & Sidwell, P. Z. (2015, June), Incorporating Research and Design in a Community College Engineering Program Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24279
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