Published in Proceedings of the 2006 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition: Chicago, IL, June 18, 2006. 11 pages. Copyright © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education.
The benefits of research experiences for undergraduates are significant. For many faculty, these were the experiences that convinced us to pursue further education and a career in academia. However, performing research at an undergraduate institution carries with it certain challenges. In traditional research institutions, doctoral students perform most of the research activities, led by the faculty. These students have completed at least their undergraduate courses and can be expected to remain on the research team for four to six years. In contrast, at an undergraduate institution students may start in the group with only one or two engineering courses completed, and will remain in the group for only two or three years. Other constraints at these schools are high teaching loads and limited research facilities. Because of these concerns, some faculty may choose to avoid research activities while others may perform only research that requires limited student involvement. However, as the primary focus at these institutions is the education of undergraduates, the ideal research plan will provide opportunities to include students significantly in the process.
One way to perform research with heavy undergraduate involvement is to select an appropriate topic and develop a stable undergraduate research group that builds and maintains knowledge over time. Such a research group requires tasks encompassing many skill levels, a steady funding source, and an orderly progression of short-term goals for each student. Web based communication and archiving tools can be used to share and pass on data, references and information. Selecting the research topic, obtaining funding, and initially training and organizing the student team are the major start-up tasks. The benefits for the students and the faculty member are worth these efforts.