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Undergraduate Research: The Lafayette Experience

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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

9.1341.1 - 9.1341.9

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Paper Authors

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Mary Roth

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Kristen Sanford Bernhardt Orcid 16x16

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

Undergraduate Research: The Lafayette Experience

Kristen L. Sanford Bernhardt, Mary J.S. Roth

Lafayette College


Lafayette College is an undergraduate institution with approximately 2200 students. On average, approximately 80 of those students are civil engineering majors; the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering graduates anywhere from 12-25 students per class. The opportunity for students to conduct one-on-one research with a faculty member is a strength of the Lafayette College environment. Lafayette encourages undergraduate research in all disciplines through a variety of programs, including independent studies, honors theses, and paid research assistantships (called the EXCEL Scholars program). The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has been highly successful in involving students in research experiences through independent studies and as EXCEL scholars, and moderately successful at graduating students with honors theses. On average, approximately one quarter of the students in the department are involved in research with faculty in any given semester, and a higher percentage participate at some time during their Lafayette careers.

There are many possible ways to define what constitutes a “successful” undergraduate research experience. As an institution, Lafayette College does not aim to send students specifically to industry or to graduate school; rather, the goal is to provide students with experiences that will enable them to make informed decisions about their future. We consider the experience of a student who discovers that he or she does not enjoy research to be as much a success as the student whose experience spurs an application to graduate school.

A successful research experience also must satisfy faculty needs. Lafayette’s tenure and promotion requirements include scholarly work. With no graduate research assistants, faculty members often must rely on undergraduate researchers for assistance. Research products, such as papers and presentations, are quantifiable measures of research productivity, and these products can result from student research experiences. A research product not only helps faculty members, it gives students a specific goal and a sense of accomplishment, and it provides a distinguishing characteristic for the student’s resume or graduate school applications.

The objective of this paper is to examine the undergraduate research experience in our department at our institution. We first describe in detail the types of experiences that are available to our students. We then summarize the last five years of student research projects conducted in the department. Based on this information and discussions with department faculty, we summarize the lessons we have gleaned from this study. Finally, we outline our plans both for increasing student involvement and for increasing the quality of the experiences.

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

Roth, M., & Sanford Bernhardt, K. (2004, June), Undergraduate Research: The Lafayette Experience Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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: © 2004 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