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The Influence Of A Hands On Research Experience On Undergraduate Student Perceptions Of Engineering Research

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1242.1 - 13.1242.11



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Paper Authors


David Willis Southern Methodist University

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David A. Willis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Southern Methodist University. He received his B.S. degree from North Carolina State University and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in 2001. His areas of research interests are heat transfer, phase change, and fluid mechanics problems associated with short pulse laser-material interactions. His research involves experimental studies of laser microfabrication, high power laser-ablation, and laser-induced forward transfer.

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Paul Krueger Southern Methodist University

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Paul Krueger received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1997 from the University of California at Berkeley. He received his M.S. in Aeronautics in 1998 and his Ph.D. in Aeronautics in 2001, both from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 2002 he joined the Mechanical Engineering Department at Southern Methodist University where he is currently an Associate Professor. He is a recipient of the Rolf D. Buhler Memorial Award in Aeronautics and the Richard Bruce Chapman Memorial Award for distinguished research in Hydrodynamics. In 2004 he received the Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation. His research interests are unsteady hydrodynamics and aerodynamics, vortex dynamics, bio-fluid mechanics, and pulsed-jet propulsion.

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Alice Kendrick Southern Methodist University

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

The influence of a hands-on research experience on undergraduate student perceptions of engineering research


Results of a multi-method study of both a national pool of applicants and nine participants selected for an eight-week summer research program in a university mechanical engineering department are the focus of this paper. Funded by the National Science Foundation through a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site grant, the program paired undergraduate engineering students with professors engaged in experimental research during the summer of 2007. Students were competitively selected from a pool of nationwide applicants, and nine participants were chosen. Students participated in research focused on experimental methods in mechanical engineering, ranging from bone mechanics to laser micro-machining to fluid dynamics. The program also featured a variety of activities including weekly seminars on experimental methods, field trips to local engineering companies, and a poster presentation at the conclusion of the program.

A survey of 14 REU program applicants provided academic and career interest profiles, including high school activities, origins of their choice of engineering as a college major, the perceived benefits of an REU program, and ethnic diversity. The applicant survey also allowed feedback regarding the effectiveness of promotional materials used by the host institution, and how students learned of the REU opportunity. Results of before-program and after-program paper and pencil surveys and moderator-led focus groups among the nine REU participants are also discussed. The surveys and focus groups addressed program outcome issues such as perceptions of engineering research and desire to pursue graduate studies, liked most and liked least aspects of the REU experience, and ways the program could be improved. Contrary to expectations, the REU experience resulted in some participants deciding against enrolling in graduate engineering school or pursuing careers in engineering research. Results will be used to inform both programmatic and promotional decisions for the planned 2008 and 2009 site programs. The paper will also discuss additional implications of an REU program for faculty who plan to apply for similar NSF grants as well as those who plan to promote such programs to their students.


A National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site was conducted during the summer of 2007 at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The theme of the program was “Experimental Methods in Mechanical Engineering,” and was chosen due to the large percentage of faculty working in various aspects of experimental research. The theme of experimental methods is also attractive since hands-on research is recognized as an effective method of retention.1,2 Engineering students also tend to be “active learners”, meaning that they learn more effectively from participating in an activity rather than listening to a lecture.3 Undergraduate research also is a recognized method encouraging students to pursue graduate studies.4 Research laboratories that participated in the program were the

Willis, D., & Krueger, P., & Kendrick, A. (2008, June), The Influence Of A Hands On Research Experience On Undergraduate Student Perceptions Of Engineering Research Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3583

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015