June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.1031.1 - 15.1031.10
Research Experience at an Undergraduate Institution
The authors’ institution, Ohio Northern University (ONU) is a private, medium-sized university offering undergraduate degrees in Arts & Sciences, Business, Pharmacy, and Engineering, as well as graduate degrees in Law. The College of Engineering at ONU attracts exceptional students. However, because there are no graduate programs within the College of Engineering, engineering students have limited opportunities to participate in advanced interdisciplinary research. This paper describes research activities conducted primarily in the mechanical engineering department by undergraduate students. Projects in biomechanics and biomaterials integrate engineering mechanics and materials science with the life sciences to enable undergraduate engineering students to participate in cutting-edge research. These activities are expected to attract more students, especially female students, to engineering and to expand the future career options of mechanical engineering students.
There are a number of special circumstances that must be considered when developing research projects that are appropriate for undergraduate students. The undergraduate research activities are carefully designed to recruit suitable students and to ensure a positive educational experience. During the freshman year, students are selected and introduced to the research topic. These students enroll in an independent-study course in order to learn basic concepts related to future research work. In the sophomore year, the participating students obtain practical experience in mechanics experiments. During the junior year, the students perform mechanics analysis and more advanced experiments. In the senior year, the students create numerical models using finite element analysis. All the students involved in the research work have good academic standing. These students become more interested in cutting-edge research work and some of them decide to pursue graduate degrees after graduation.
A common concern for engineering educators today is that the number of American students entering the engineering field is not high enough to meet future demand.1-4 In recent years, fewer than one-third of college students have pursued science and engineering degrees5. The enrollment of engineering freshman declined from 1985 to 2005, according to data by the Engineering Workforce Commission.6 As studies have shown, in recent years “the number of engineering Ph.D. graduates has increased very little.”7 Undergraduate research focusing on interdisciplinary projects has been shown to have a positive impact on retention in the engineering majors, enrollment in engineering graduate schools, and the career development of engineering graduates.8-12 In most research universities, undergraduate research programs are relatively mature, since undergraduate students can easily be integrated into existing research groups, working with graduate students on a variety of research projects. However, for an undergraduate engineering program like that at Ohio Northern University (ONU), this model is not possible. The absence of graduate students severely limits the amount of work that can be accomplished, since undergraduate students generally lack the technical background needed to work independently. In addition, undergraduate students have many more demands on their
Shen, H., & Miller, R. F., & Sawyers, D. (2010, June), Research Experience At An Undergraduate Institution Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16453
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