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Preparing Future Engineers Through Project-Based Learning

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Mark Wong Contra Costa College

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Mark Wong is a professor of physics and engineering at Contra Costa College (San Pablo, CA).

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Sergio Alexander Alvarez Contra Costa College Orcid 16x16


Jonathan Alexander Canel Contra Costa College

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Student at Contra Costa College with a major in Aerospace Engineering

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Phiroze Jhalman Duggal

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Yesenia Rodriguez Moreno

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Daven Ng

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Nathalie Zaldivar

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Chao Liu Contra Costa College

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Jeff Kamalian Contra Costa College

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Seti Sidharta Contra Costa College

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Background There exists a significant amount of research suggesting that among the common reasons that students leave an engineering major include lack of faculty mentoring, lack of a sense of belonging, financial hardships, and course difficulties in the prerequisite STEM courses. Project-based learning potentially addresses several of these reasons why students do not remain in the engineering major.

Purpose (Hypothesis) Engineering students are more likely to persist when they feel a sense of belonging and community engagement, when they have early interactions with faculty mentors, and when they experience a series of successes. The research question involves whether student research projects with small, faculty-mentored groups promotes student retention.

Design/Method Students participating in Contra Costa College’s Center for Science Excellence (CSE) STEM mentoring program are encouraged to apply for external internships and internal research projects. As of the last cycle before the interruption to internship opportunities associated with COVID-19, 79% of participating students intended to apply for summer internships. Students are also able to work on internal research projects mentored by CSE faculty mentors. Students have participated in the past two California Solar Regattas, a solar-powered boat competition organized by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The student teams won a “Judge’s Choice” trophy during their first year of competition. At the end of each competition, the design team has created a description of successful features and areas for improvement. Students have participated in model rocket construction and launching each of the past two years. Four groups of students successfully constructed, launched, and retrieved their model rockets. In summer 2019, three students participated in an onsite Arduino microcontroller project. In this project, students worked with mentors from the physics department to design, construct, and test freefall apparatuses for use in three physics courses at the college. The students successfully designed, machined, and assembled lab quantities of freefall test apparatuses that have been used by students in descriptive physics labs, physics for biological science majors labs, and physics for physical scientists and engineers labs. At the conclusion of the project, the student team worked with their physics department mentors to determine other lab experiments that the Arduino photogate timer could be incorporated into by future student research teams. During the largely remote-education period brought about by the COVID-19 response, several CSE engineering students are using Arduino microcontroller kits to design and build a series of pre-determined projects to learn how to incorporate Arduino into projects. This, ultimately, will culminate in a student-designed project for each participant. Each of the above student research teams has (or will) present their projects at our college’s annual student research symposium.

Results Engineering students that have participated in research projects have remained in our program and transferred at a high rate. Of 23 student research participants, ten have transferred into engineering majors (43%), two have transferred into other STEM majors (9%), eight continue to take transfer preparatory courses at CCC (35%), and the status of three students is unknown (13%).

Wong, M., & Alvarez, S. A., & Canel, J. A., & Duggal, P. J., & Rodriguez Moreno , Y., & Ng , D., & Zaldivar, N., & Liu, C., & Kamalian, J., & Sidharta, S. (2021, July), Preparing Future Engineers Through Project-Based Learning Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37595

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