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Incorporating Research and Design in a Community College Engineering Program

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Best Practices for Two-Year Students Majoring in Engineering & STEM Fields

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.942.1 - 26.942.9



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Paper Authors


April K. Andreas McLennan Community College

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Dr. April K. Andreas earned a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University and a Ph.D. in Systems and Industrial Engineering from the University of Arizona. Her papers have appeared in journals ranging from "Networks" and "The Journal of Global Optimization" to "The Toastmaster" and "The Quarterly Journal of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented." Dr. Andreas is currently building an engineering program at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. The department’s emphasis on undergraduate research, student-driven learning, and non-traditional learning experiences have contributed significantly to the growth of the department, nearly 40% annually since its reboot in 2009. Anyone interested in sharing lessons learned is welcome to contact the author at

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Paulina Z. Sidwell McLennan Community College

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Paulina Sidwell teaches engineering and math at McLennan Community College. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, she attended New Mexico State University, where she played Division I tennis while getting her B.S. in Industrial Engineering. As an undergraduate, she was vice-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and was an active member of the school's Tau Beta Pi and IIE chapters. At graduation she was honored with the Outstanding International Student Award and the Joe and Van Bullock Medal of Honor to Outstanding Female Student-Athlete. She also received her M.S. in Industrial Engineering from NMSU while conducting research over scheduling and policy optimization in healthcare. At McLennan Community College, she serves as an advisor for the Engineering & Physics Club. She was part of MCC’s Mars 101 program in 2013 and 2014, and served as a sponsor in the Geology Field Course.

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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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