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Research In The Undergraduate Environment

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade in Research

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1086.1 - 11.1086.13



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Paper Authors


Peter Schuster California Polytechnic State University

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Peter Schuster is interested in automotive safety, impact, biomechanics, finite element analysis, and design. He earned a Physics BA from Cornell University, MSME in design from Stanford University, and Ph.D. in biomechanics from Michigan Technological University. After ten years in body design and automotive safety at Ford Motor Company he joined the Mechanical Engineering department at Cal Poly. He teaches mechanics, design, stress analysis, and finite element analysis courses and serves as co-advisor to the student SAE chapter.

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Charles Birdsong California Polytechnic State University

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Charles Birdsong has expertise in vibrations, controls, signal processing, instrumentation, real-time control, active noise control, and dynamic system modeling. He received his BSME at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, MS and Ph.D. at Michigan State University where he worked on active noise control applications for the automotive industry. He has worked in the vibration test and measurement industry helping to drive new technologies to market and working with industry to meet their emerging needs. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Cal Poly in the Department of Mechanical Engineering teaching dynamics, vibrations and controls and is involved in several undergraduate and master’s level multidisciplinary projects.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Research in the Undergraduate Environment


The benefits of research experiences for undergraduates are significant. For many faculty, these were the experiences that convinced us to pursue further education and a career in academia. However, performing research at an undergraduate institution carries with it certain challenges. In traditional research institutions, doctoral students perform most of the research activities, led by the faculty. These students have completed at least their undergraduate courses and can be expected to remain on the research team for four to six years. In contrast, at an undergraduate institution students may start in the group with only one or two engineering courses completed, and will remain in the group for only two or three years. Other constraints at these schools are high teaching loads and limited research facilities. Because of these concerns, some faculty may choose to avoid research activities while others may perform only research that requires limited student involvement. However, as the primary focus at these institutions is the education of undergraduates, the ideal research plan will provide opportunities to include students significantly in the process.

One way to perform research with heavy undergraduate involvement is to select an appropriate topic and develop a stable undergraduate research group that builds and maintains knowledge over time. Such a research group requires tasks encompassing many skill levels, a steady funding source, and an orderly progression of short-term goals for each student. Web based communication and archiving tools can be used to share and pass on data, references and information. Selecting the research topic, obtaining funding, and initially training and organizing the student team are the major start-up tasks. The benefits for the students and the faculty member are worth these efforts.


The role of research at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) is complex. Two decades ago, research was shunned by faculty at these institutions, who viewed that work as detrimental to their mission of education. Professional development was encouraged in other areas, such as laboratory development and teaching methods. At many PUI’s, the reverse is now true. Externally funded research is seen as the path toward tenure (provided the teaching record is also solid), while other forms of professional development are not viewed as favorably. Fundamentally, whatever professional development activity faculty members pursue, it should aim to support the mission of the university. Our university’s mission states, in part:

“As a predominantly undergraduate, comprehensive, polytechnic university …, the mission … is to discover, integrate, articulate, and apply knowledge. This it does by emphasizing teaching; engaging in research; participating in the various communities, local, state, national, and international, with which it pursues common interests; and where appropriate, providing students with the unique experience of direct involvement with the actual challenges of their disciplines in the United States and abroad.”

Schuster, P., & Birdsong, C. (2006, June), Research In The Undergraduate Environment Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--844

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