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Work in Progress: Evaluation of a Remote Undergraduate Research Experience in Chemical Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Works in Progress in Chemical Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sarah E. Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Sarah Zappe is Research Professor and Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State. She holds a doctoral degree in educational psychology emphasizing applied measurement and testing. In her position, Sarah is responsible for developing instructional support programs for faculty, providing evaluation support for educational proposals and projects, and working with faculty to publish educational research. Her research interests primarily involve creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship education.

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Enrique D. Gomez

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Scott T. Milner


Yu Xia

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Yu Xia is a doctoral candidate in Learning, Design, and Technology program in College of Education and research assistant in Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education in College of Engineering at Penn State. She is currently doing research of collaborative learning in various learning contexts.

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In 2019, as part of a research-focused grant from the National Science Foundation that combines computational and experimental work, a chemical engineering department at a large research university in the mid-Atlantic states allocated funds to create an undergraduate research experience program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, this program was intended to allow students from the university’s multiple campuses to gain experience in research, providing opportunities that they may not have at their home campus. The intention of the original proposal was for students at campuses to remotely engage in computational-based research during the fall and spring semesters, while engaging in in-person research at the university’s main campus during the summer. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to engage remotely shifted these plans, such that the research experience was held in a full remote format during Summer of 2020. The purpose of this proposed paper is to describe the research experience and its evaluation. A case-study approach was used to gather perceptions of three students who engaged in the remote research experience during summer of 2020.

The following research questions were used to guide the evaluation of the remote research experience: 1) What are students’ perceived benefits of participating in the research experience, in terms of acquisition of technical and professional skills?, 2) What benefits and challenges did students perceive regarding participation in a remote research experience? and 3) How can the remote research experience be improved for future students?

Both qualitative and quantitative forms of data were collected in order to answer these questions. Although the sample size is very small at this point in the project (n=3), we intend to combine data across years to reach a larger sample. Students were asked to complete a pre- and post-survey online. Questions on the pre-survey focused on any concerns that they might have about the program, including its remote nature and reasons they decided to participate. In addition, three scales were included that were intended to measure students’ engineering identity (or the likelihood that they identify themselves as being engineers), their engineering self-efficacy (or the confidence they have in being an engineer), and their interest in various research activities. Questions on the post-survey asked about perceived benefits of the research experience, how the research experience impacted career interests, and then also included the same three scales on identity, self-efficacy, and research interest.

In addition to the survey, all three students participated in an interview with the evaluator at the end of the summer 2020 experience. The purpose of this interview was to further explore their perceptions of the research experience. Questions in the interview asked about benefits and challenges of the research experience, benefits and challenges of participating remotely, and suggestions for future experiences. The full paper will discuss the results of both the surveys and the interviews and discuss the practical implications for future researchers and practitioners on how to conduct remote undergraduate research experience programs.

Zappe, S. E., & Gomez, E. D., & Milner, S. T., & Xia, Y. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Evaluation of a Remote Undergraduate Research Experience in Chemical Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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