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Utilizing A Social Cognitive Theoretical Framework To Investigate The Influences Of A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience On Participants’ Academic And Career Plans

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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

STEM Pipeline: Pre-College to Post-Baccalaureate

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1372.1 - 13.1372.14



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Paper Authors


Julie Trenor University of Houston

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JULIE MARTIN TRENOR is a Research and Instructional Assistant Professor at the University of Houston, and is the Director of Undergraduate Student Recruitment and Retention for the Cullen College of Engineering. Dr. Trenor holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree in the same field from North Carolina State University. Dr. Trenor develops and teaches freshman engineering courses, and directs the women-in-engineering program, WELCOME. She is the principal investigator for several grants related to recruitment and retention of diverse engineering students, including a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates site and a Research Experiences for Teachers site.

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Olga Pierrakos James Madison University

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OLGA PIERRAKOS is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at James Madison University. Prior to this, Dr. Pierrakos served as National Academy of Engineering CASEE Postdoctoral Engineering Education Researcher (PEER) at Virginia Tech and aspects of this published work were a result of this postdoctoral appointment. Dr. Pierrakos holds a B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her research interests are cardiovascular fluid mechanics and engineering education research, which includes engineering assessment, undergraduate research, design education methodologies, epistemologies of interdisciplinary education, and K-12 engineering education.

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Utilizing a Social Cognitive Theoretical Framework to Investigate the Influences of a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience on Participants’ Academic and Career Plans


Undergraduate research experiences in engineering have recently received significant interest as mechanisms for attracting undergraduates to graduate-level work. In particular, the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) initiative aims to recruit students to careers in research. Our work employs a social cognitive theoretical framework to investigate how participation in a summer undergraduate research program influences participants’ academic and career plans (specifically plans to pursue a Ph.D.) and their self- efficacy for future scientific research. A mixed-methods approach, incorporating survey instruments, interviews, and weekly self-reflective journal entries, was utilized to study undergraduate researchers (N=10) participating in a REU program at a large research university. A key finding from the qualitative data was the role that graduate mentors played as “coping models” in developing undergraduate participants’ self efficacy, and consequently, their academic and career plans involving doctoral-level work. This study has implications for better understanding the advantages of summer undergraduate research experiences such in recruiting and retaining qualified students for graduate studies and research careers. In particular, these data make the case for fostering formal and informal interactions between graduate students and undergraduate researchers and for including specific opportunities for participants to learn vicariously through coping models that they perceive to be similar to themselves.


As our nation seeks to expand and diversify its scientific workforce, undergraduate research experiences have garnered more attention and funding, with the goal of attracting and retaining talented engineering undergraduates into graduate-level work and, subsequently, research careers. The National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program is one of the largest initiatives supporting active research participation by undergraduate students in all of the areas of research funded by National Science Foundation (NSF). The REU program solicitation1 describes the initiative: “The REU program is a major contributor to the NSF goal of developing a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally-engaged science and engineering workforce. It draws on the integration of research and education to attract a diversified pool of talented students into careers in science and engineering, including teaching and education research related to science and engineering, and to help ensure that these students receive the best education possible.”

With more than 600 sites around the world, the REU program presently funds 1,000 active awards, with approximately $327 million awarded to date. From these active REU awards, 385 (38%) are related to engineering (determined by having ‘engineering’ as a keyword in the title and abstract) and account for about $170 million, about half of the total amount of awards to date. In spite of such widespread support and belief in the value of undergraduate research to

Trenor, J., & Pierrakos, O. (2008, June), Utilizing A Social Cognitive Theoretical Framework To Investigate The Influences Of A Summer Undergraduate Research Experience On Participants’ Academic And Career Plans Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3386

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