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Undergraduate Research Experience: A Tool For Students Pursuing A Graduate Degree In Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

New Learning Paradigms II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1290.1 - 14.1290.7

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Paper Authors

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Gymama Slaughter Virginia State University

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Toni Harris Virginia State University

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Kabongo Ngandu Virginia State University

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Keith Williamson Virginia State University

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Kwame Adom Virginia State University

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

Undergraduate Research Experience: A Tool for Student Pursuing a Graduate Degree in Engineering

Key Words: Undergraduate Research Experience, Mentoring, Graduate Degree in Engineering


Many engineering programs across the country have witnessed large numbers of students leaving their engineering programs before graduation. Retention in most engineering programs has become a burning subject due to students’ comments on the inaccessibility and unapproachable nature of the faculty. Against this backdrop, we initiated an undergraduate research experience program in the Virginia State University’s Center for Biosystems and Engineering (CBE) in order to address and evaluate students’ likelihood and performance in the Department of Engineering and Technology to pursue a graduate degree in engineering. We selected students with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 to participate in the program based on their persistence to obtaining an engineering degree. Although GPAs are the strongest predictors of persistence in engineering, our approach focuses on recruiting students who are eager and willing to learn. Along with the willingness to learn “how to learn”, the participants must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and a minimum major semester GPA of 3.5. Students are placed in research teams where they are engaged in self-regulated learning, help-seeking, and peer- learning in all aspects of their engineering education program and conducting research in CBE. The faculty members who serve on the CBE research committee are personally available to students and aid in the transformation efforts of mentoring and retaining students in engineering. We evaluated whether our program was successful at meeting the intended outcomes of increasing the participants’ likelihood of attending graduate school and pursuing careers in engineering. The approach used in this study could be employed in other undergraduate institutions, especially Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to increase engineering students’ self-efficacy, academic confidence, and GPAs, and retention rates.


According to the National Science Foundation, there has been a significant decline in the number of U.S. citizens who are training to become scientists and engineers, whereas the number of jobs requiring science and engineering STEM training continues to grow1. At Virginia State University (VSU), the retention rate of full-time freshman students in the Department of Engineering and Technology (E&T) is approximately 40%, the retention rate of full time freshman in all units in the School of Science, Engineering & Technology is 30%, and the overall retention rate of freshman at VSU is 29%2. As a result, the Virginia State University’s Center for Biosystems & Engineering (CBE) conducted a survey of why students fail to return after their first year in order to develop a program to increase the retention rate of its engineering programs. The most important reason why the students leave is due to financial problems. Many reported working significant hours (20-40 hours a week), in addition to registering for a full load of coursework (15-18 credit hours). Other reasons included lack of faculty support (student advising), placed into courses they were unprepared to take, and attending boring classes. These

Slaughter, G., & Harris, T., & Ngandu, K., & Williamson, K., & Adom, K. (2009, June), Undergraduate Research Experience: A Tool For Students Pursuing A Graduate Degree In Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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