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Undergraduate Independent Study Research Projects

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Lighting the Fire: REU

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1334.1 - 9.1334.18



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Paper Authors

author page

Mark Evans

author page

Ronald Welch

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

Session 3215

Undergraduate Independent Study Research Projects

Ronald W. Welch, Mark D. Evans United States Military Academy


This paper describes a senior independent study course used successful by the ABET-Accredited Civil Engineering Program at the United States Military Academy (USMA) that is believed to greatly enhance the academic program. The three general project types of independent study projects available are service-based, competition-based, and research-based. The mix of these open-ended projects usually ensures that each student can list a minimum of 3-5 project choices that meet their individual needs for a challenging, rewarding academic experience. The fact that this course is offered in addition to the program-required capstone course and taken by over 90 percent of the seniors each year testifies to the value that the cadets see in the course.

In the past decade at USMA, academic promotion criteria have increasingly looked at research and publication records of faculty members. Thus, what was once a primarily teaching-focused school has began to morph into a research-focused school. With the growing need for modest faculty research and the absence of graduate students, the development of undergraduate research opportunities quickly evolved. There have been numerous successes and failures over the last five years as we experimented with types and levels of research projects that undergraduate students could handle, how to properly manage undergraduate research, and what should be the program and student outcomes associated with the course.

Possible research projects are presented to the students early in the fall semester of their senior year. Project assignments are made by mid-semester so that initial coordination and some preparatory work can commence prior to the spring semester. With 45 to 60 CE majors graduating each year, it is easy to understand that one faculty member cannot advise the required 15-20 projects each spring. So many, if not all, of the CE program’s 17 faculty must be part of this senior project program from the onset and supervise at least one project. Many of the projects entail research tied directly to the faculty member’s research.

It will be shown through student assessment data that this experience both challenges and also motivates students like no other course in their academic experience. The students are providing a solution to a real world problem for a real client. It is also the case that student involvement in solving real problems stimulates client and sponsor interest; they become heavily involved in the project. Increased client participation enhances the quality of the finished product, and also enhances the experience for both students and clients. These semester-long projects are a great learning experience for all, including the faculty. The assessment will show that the students find the program demanding, but enjoyable and worthwhile, because it forces them to push the boundaries of their knowledge through initiative, self-study, perseverance, and creativity.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference& Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Evans, M., & Welch, R. (2004, June), Undergraduate Independent Study Research Projects Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13913

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