Published in Proceedings of International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition 2007, November 11, 2007.
There are significant benefits of research for the involved undergraduate student. These include exposure to advanced topics, introduction to research methods, and direct interaction with faculty and other students. Faculty and institutions benefit as well by the increased interaction with students – fresh eyes in research projects, more energized research groups, and more engaged alumni. However, there are some challenges in designing a research program to work primarily with undergraduates. These include the students’ lack of exposure to advanced topics, short tenure on the project, and potentially lower commitment to the results. There are a number of ways to address these concerns, however. Short student tenure and limited background can be offset by breaking up a long-term project into manageable short-term goals, allocating specific deliverables to each student, and implementing a rigorous data reporting and storage system. Motivation concerns can be handled through tying performance to student grades or to an external competition. This paper presents results of applying these techniques in a multi-disciplinary vehicle sensing research project involving sixteen undergraduates over a three-year period. Although individual student time on the project ranged from only three to twelve months, all students were able to contribute to the project. Student activities were grouped into individual and small group tasks, each with specific goals and timetables. Rigorous electronic documentation and data storage techniques were employed to enable new students to come up-to-speed quickly. A mix of course credits, supplemental pay, and an intercollegiate competition were used to maintain student motivation. Project successes include high student satisfaction, conference papers, a demonstration pre-crash sensing system, and participation in an international student competition.
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