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STEM inSight: Developing a Research Skills Course for First- and Second-Year Students

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

FPD 9: First-Year Engineering Courses, Part III: Research, Sustainability, and Professionalism

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1084.1 - 23.1084.17



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Paper Authors

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Dirk Colbry Michigan State University


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Recruiting at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she received her Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published nearly two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. As a volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, Luchini-Colbry facilitates interactive
seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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Engineering inSight: Developing a Research Skills Course for First- and Second-Year StudentsWe describe the design, implementation and revision of an honors research seminar developed tointroduce first- and second-year undergraduates to research in STEM (Science, Technology,Engineering, Math). This seminar includes numerous hands-on, inquiry- and problem-basedlearning activities, and is rooted in Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (1978). Open toundergraduates from all majors, this year-long seminar brings together a group of first- andsecond-year students with faculty mentors to explore a specific topic or theme. The design goalsfor the course include:  to develop a research seminar that focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) topics, yet was accessible to students from any academic major  to introduce students to some of the tools and processes of STEM research  to engage first- and second-year students in academic research and help them develop problem-solving, critical-thinking and communications skillsUndergraduates from Supply Chain Management, Astrophysics, Mathematics, Education,Packaging, and several Engineering majors have enrolled in the course in the last two years. Allparticipants are members of the University’s Honors College and completed the course in theirfirst or second year on campus.Initially, the course was designed to introduce an engineering problem with many potentialsolutions; specifically: how to increase the sustainability of the supercomputer center oncampus? A combination of in-class lectures, hands-on activities and homework assignments wasused to help students develop a fundamental understanding of the problem, including basics offluid dynamics, thermal regulation, and high performance computing. In the second semester ofthe year-long course, students worked with a faculty mentor to develop individual researchprojects exploring various ways to increase the sustainability of the supercomputing center;students presented their projects at a university-wide forum for undergraduate researchers.For the second offering of this course, the curriculum was adjusted to focus on image analysisworkflows, which are applicable to many areas of STEM research. Students were introduced tothe idea of image analysis through a series of scaffolded research activities. First, students weregiven a manual data analysis task that introduced key concepts and processes in image analysisworkflows. Next, students applied this basic understanding to address a specific researchquestion within STEM. Finally, students work with faculty mentors to explore ways to automateand streamline the image analysis workflow within their problem domain.This paper compares these two approaches to developing a STEM research skills course for first-and second-year students (problem-based vs. workflow-based) and offers lessons learned fordeveloping research skills courses and first-year curricula. In particular, we discuss: (1) thechallenges of developing a research skills course for first- and second-year students with limitedskill sets; (2) the pros and cons of a problem-based vs. workflow-based course design; and (3)suggestions for using STEM research processes to integrate students from various majors.

Colbry, D., & Luchini-Colbry, K. (2013, June), STEM inSight: Developing a Research Skills Course for First- and Second-Year Students Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22469

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