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Project Connect – A Model for Immersive Professional Development of Future Engineers

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Conference

2021 CoNECD

Location

Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 2 Technical Session 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

Page Count

13

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36114

Download Count

33

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Paper Authors

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Rhonda R. Franklin University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Rhonda R. Franklin received her B.S. Texas A&M University and M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Electrical Engineering. She is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Her research investigates the design of circuits, antennas, integration and packaging techniques, and characterization of electronic materials and magnetic nanomaterials for communication, biomedical and nanomedicine applications. She has co-authored over 100 referred conferences and journals, five book chapters and two patents.

She received the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the 3M Untenured Faculty Award. She is active in the IEEE MTT-S (e.g. associate editor of MWCL, chaired IMS TPRC sub-committees, student paper competitions and scholarship committee) and is a co-founder of IMS Project Connect and Chair of MTT-S Technical Coordinating Committee for Integration and Packaging. She is the 2014 Sara Evans Faculty Scholar Leader Award, 2017 John Tate Advising Award, and 2018 Willie Hobbs Moore Distinguished Alumni Lecture Award and the 2019 IEEE N. Walter Cox Service Award recipient from the MTT-S Society. She also creates professional development programs for women and minority faculty and has served on the inaugural Women Faculty Cabinet at the University of Minnesota.

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Kristen S. Gorman University of Minnesota

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Kris Gorman is an Education Program Specialist at the University of Minnesota Center for Educational Innovation and served as external evaluator for this project. At the U of M, she provides professional development to faculty and TAs related to teaching and learning, focusing on the implementation of evidence-based and inclusive practices in STEM disciplines. Dr. Gorman received her PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from the University of Rochester and postdoctoral training from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan.

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Rashaunda M. Henderson University of Texas at Dallas

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Rashaunda Henderson received the B.S.E.E. degree from Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL, in 1992, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, in 1994 and 1999, respectively. From 1999 to 2007, she worked as a R&D device engineer at Freescale Semiconductor (formerly Motorola Semiconductor Product Sector). Since Fall 2007, she has been researching novel passive components and integration techniques for millimeter-wave circuits and systems at UT Dallas in Richardson, TX. As an Associate Professor she advises a team of students in the design, fabrication and characterization of high performance passive components and antennas for frequencies operating up to 325 GHz. Dr. Henderson is a senior member of the IEEE and an elected member of the MTT-S Administrative Committee.

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Netra Pillay Qualcomm

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Netra Pillay received her B.E in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Pune University, India and M.S in Electrical Engineering from Drexel University,Philadelphia,USA. She currently works as an engineer at Qualcomm.

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Heena Rathore University of Texas, San Antonio Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-9403-8071

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Heena Rathore is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio. Prior to that, she was a visiting assistant professor at Texas A&M University. She also worked as a Research Scientist and Program Manager at Hiller Measurements for couple of years. Prior to that, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher for US-Qatar Joint Collaborative Project between Temple University, USA, University of Idaho, USA and Qatar University. Also, she was a visiting scholar for Wichita State University. She received her Ph.D. (with distinction) in Computer Science and Engineering Department while she was a Tata Consultancy Services Research Scholar at Indian Institute of Technology, India. She received her bachelor’s in Computer Science Engineering from College of Technology and Engineering in 2010 with Honors. She has also worked professionally as Design Executive with Phosphate India Private Limited and academically as Guest/Assistant Professor with the University of Texas, Austin and SS College of Engineering, India respectively. She has been the winner of a number of prestigious awards including IEEE Achievements Award, Young Engineer Award, Global Engineering Impact Award and Graphical System Design Achievement Award. She has published more than 30 papers in peer reviewed journals and conferences in her field and is the sole author of Mapping Biological Systems to Network Systems (Springer). She was also featured on TedX, Qatar held by TedXAlDafnaEd in Qatar and her work is covered in professional and major trade publications, major media, such as Microwave Journal, Everything RF, Financial Express, Science Reporter, the Times of India, and India Today. She is IEEE senior member, Vice Chair of IEEE EMBS chapter in San Antonio and IEEE Central Texas Section in Austin. Her research interests include cyber physical systems, deep learning, machine learning, security, cryptocurrency, distributed systems, wireless networks biologically inspired systems and software defined networks.

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Abhay Samant National Instruments

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Abhay Samant is Chief Software Engineer at National Instruments and Adjunct Faculty at the McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin

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Tom Weller Oregon State University

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Thomas M. Weller received the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1988, 1991, and 1995, respectively, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. From 1988-1990 he worked at Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo, CA. From 1995-2018 he was a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He joined Oregon State University in 2018, where he is currently the Michael and Judith Gaulke Professor and School Head in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He co-founded Modelithics, Inc. in 2001. Dr. Weller’s research interests are in tunable and reconfigurable microwave circuits, microwave applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, electromagnetic sensors, passive microwave circuit design, planar and 3D electrically-small antennas, and equivalent circuit modeling.

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Abstract

Introduction – Project Connect (PC) is an immersive professional development program designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in engineering who pursue careers in the microwave engineering and related fields. Most of the professionals in this area have been educated in the electrical engineering (EE) field with a focus on applied electromagnetics, antenna theory and communication systems. The electromagnetics class in a typical electrical engineering undergraduate programs involves vector calculus and abstract concepts without, in many cases, the right facilities or equipment to aid experiential learning. This leaves most students perplexed and disinterested in the field, while they do not fully realize the wealth of opportunities that lie beyond this course. This problem is even more pronounced for students from underrepresented groups as they may have less exposure to the professional and academic opportunities in microwave engineering. Project Connect was birthed out of the need to keep these students engaged in the field by exposing them to a broader view of the field and the impact that they can have on technology.

Each year, the PC program is housed within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Microwave Symposium (IMS), a flagship conference based in North America with a typical attendance of over 9,000 and an industry exhibition with more than 700 companies. PC hosts approximately two dozen students for four days of community building and professional development, most of whom are juniors or seniors in undergraduate programs, along with a smaller cohort of first year students in graduate programs. The groups, consistently mixed in gender, get an opportunity for direct interaction of fellow PC participants, practitioners and academics, which is central to the success of the program. PC is sponsored jointly by the National Science Foundation and the IMS Organizing Committee, and has been in operation since 2014.

Program – The agenda for the four-day event at the IMS combines professional development with fun activities intentionally programmed to incorporate the local culture of the IMS host city and the thematic focus of the conference. The goal of experiencing local culture is combined with a community building activity for the students on the first full day of the conference; typically, this includes a team-based scavenger hunt in an area of historical significance in the city. The bonding opportunity is effective at building comradery and dissipating anxiety in students, many of whom have limited or even no experience in this kind of professional setting. Many of the students participating in this program have not traveled beyond their home state and are anxious about the benefits of PC. By interacting with their peers and learning about a new city, they are able to open up to the new professional directions that they will be challenged to consider.

The second and third days are a combination of participating in general conference activities and focused group sessions on professional development, involving the program coordinators, practicing engineers, and faculty. To facilitate the former, the students are given assignments to engage with specific types of companies, attend technical presentations, introduce themselves to conference organizers, and the like. The students are required to “connect” with graduate students who are currently engaged in the profession and learn about their experiences beyond an undergraduate degree. The technical aspect of the conference is reinforced by connecting at least one focused PC session to the conference theme, e.g. biomedical applications of microwave engineering. Students may then attend a panel session or meet key influencers associated with the theme. A PC reception is also held where VIPs of the conference and professional society meet with the students for one-on-one interaction. The professional network of organizers from industry, government, and academia are also invited to talk with students about career opportunities. The importance of network building is frequently reinforced, and this includes the development of effective ‘elevator speeches’ and strong encouragement for the students to participate in social events that accompany the conference. On the fourth and final day, the students present “IMS Through Our Eyes” videos, prepared generally at the end of Day 3 by working in groups of 2 or 3, to capture their experience. The team videos are also utilized by the organizing team to share with constituent groups to seed commitment for future meetings.

The effectiveness of Project Connect can be attributed to it being embedded within the IMS conference setting. There are multiple generations of engineers in attendance, including graduate students, early-career professionals, managers and lab scientists, and high-level corporate officers. People at all of these stages welcome the opportunity to participate as panelists and engage directly with the students, providing a window into their career paths and the professional lives of working engineers. The large industry exhibition includes demonstrations of state-of-the-art microwave technology, and the showroom floor bristles with activity. With this backdrop and a carefully designed curriculum that utilizes the setting for engagement, the students have extra motivation to absorb what is shared with them about presenting themselves (the elevator speech) and ample opportunity to practice. Furthermore, the interaction with the panelists has the effect of shortening the perceived distance between a young student and a successful engineer, thereby improving the students’ ability to interact comfortably with others at the conference. Moreover, the IMS is simply a vibrant and entertaining event with a constant stream of technical and social activities.

Lessons Learned – The first five years of Project Connect were focused on defining, refining, and tuning the program curriculum content by the organizers to maximize linkages between the conference and the program and learning experiences. In year two, university housing incorporated as a cost-savings measure created an unexpected benefit. We observed better student interactions within the group of strangers due to the familiarity of the student housing platform and its convenient gathering spaces that fostered more social interactions than a hotel. In year four, a community building activity was added to learn about the local community. Since then, the community building activity has become a part of the curriculum where local environment is used to teach about culture and to have fun while learning about team work. The application process has been fine-tuned to include a 3-minute video, an electronic form with basic information, reference letter and transcript. This drives efficiency in both the application submission and review process. Because the program is specialty specific, we look for student interest, review transcripts to make sure the student has taken courses that allow them to understand at a basic level the content of the conference, and feedback from the reference letter that the student will engage and participate actively since the curriculum requires active teamwork on an extremely short time line.

Recruiting Challenges – One on-going challenge has been recruitment. The program has received 30-50 preliminary applications each year, but often many of them are not completed. So recruitment has proven to be a two-part problem of first publicizing and attracting initial interest, and then having the students follow-through and complete the application process.

To publicize the program, electronic flyers are sent to faculty in organizer networks, electrical engineering department heads, and friends of Project Connect who have expressed interest. These include various types of campuses with electrical engineering programs at predominantly white universities (PWIs), historically black college and universities (HBCUs), and minority serving institutions (MSIs). We have also informed local campus student groups (e.g. NSBE and SHPE) at our respective campuses, tried using the national level access to student groups occasionally, used social media platforms such as Facebook and Linked-in, as well as Project Connect Alumni. We have contacted minority program coordinators at PWIs, but microwave engineering, as a sub-discipline of electrical engineering, appears to be too specific for them to know if a student is interested. Contact with electrical engineering department advisors has been somewhat helpful for informing students, but in order to complete the application process students usually need guidance and support from someone who can explain the technical conference or the Project Connect program.

Even the most productive recruiting channels, through faculty in our network and Project Connect alumni, have challenges. For undergraduate students, effective recruitment by faculty generally happens with advocates in our professional network who are actively teaching courses in our sub-discipline area thus providing access to potential PC participants. However, faculty roles often change over time, e.g. teaching a different set of courses or becoming more administrative, and this has caused access points to be broken and sometimes lost. In a similar way, the effectiveness of recruiting by PC alumni is limited since familiarity with other students in a program usually extends one year (e.g. from senior to junior) at best. On campuses where we don’t have faculty advocates, those interested students may not know about the program or have the confidence to apply even if they do. Finally, the cost-savings trend that is leading to more students attending community college is making it more difficult for faculty to meet and re-meet students in their junior year. Therefore, students who may be transferring into the university may have less access to participation.

For the graduate students who participate, they have self-identified interest in the sub-discipline but may not have clarity or committed fully to the specialty area. Some may also be unsure about whether they will pursue an MS only, or continue into a PhD program. Our aim is to provide them with more clarity to decide on an interest area and access to a network of people to keep them engaged and connected once they enter the workplace.

We will be exploring ways to develop effective recruitment strategies in the future. We will leverage what works and explore how to make better connections to students on different university campuses. Given the new privacy laws and changing access points to under-represented students through various diversity officer/staff networks, this will be important information for professional societies to become aware of as employers strive to create a more diverse workplace with the help of professional societies.

Program Evaluation – An external evaluator has been engaged with the past two PC events in order to determine how effectively the program is meeting its goals. Findings from the evaluation will be included in the full paper submission.

Franklin, R. R., & Gorman, K. S., & Henderson, R. M., & Pillay, N., & Rathore, H., & Samant, A., & Weller, T. (2021, January), Project Connect – A Model for Immersive Professional Development of Future Engineers Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . https://peer.asee.org/36114

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