GW Leads Collaboration to Strengthen Undergraduate Research Experience | Today

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By Kristen Mitchell

Professors from the George Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) will lead a new multi-institution project called “Research for All” that aims to expand and improve access and productivity of research experiences for students in undergraduate engineering. This effort aims to shift the undergraduate research experience from procedural to entrepreneurial, allowing students to better appreciate the discovery and wonder of academic research as well as the productive value of their research contributions.

As part of this project, researchers will develop a suite of tools that will be tested and evaluated in various institutional settings and shared with the engineering education community to maximize their impact.

Participating in undergraduate research is an opportunity to learn valuable technical skills and learn to ask questions, but only certain students participate in these experiences and experiences may vary depending on how students are integrated into the project, said Jason Zara, SEAS Professor, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Principal Investigator on this project. “Research For All” aims to develop tools to embed research issues into required courses, develop modules to enhance the skills of students and mentors, and develop a platform to connect students with evidence-based opportunities. validated skills and interests.

“There are many research opportunities for our undergraduate students, but the process to access them can often be daunting for some students. In this project, we are working to reduce barriers to entry and increase participation in research. undergraduate research,” Zara said. . “Additionally, we are developing tools to enable students and mentors to hone their research skills and research orientation to improve the outcomes of undergraduate research experiences.”

This three-year project is a collaboration between GW, George Fox University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Olin College of Engineering, University of Washington–Tacoma, The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Campbell University, and Valparaiso University. These institutions vary widely in size, specialty areas, and research activities, giving the team the opportunity to consider the best ways to approach improving the undergraduate research experience in diverse research environments. ‘Higher Education.

The more than $2 million project is supported by the Kern Family Foundation, which originated the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), a partnership of more than 50 colleges and universities in the United States focused on fostering an entrepreneurial spirit among undergraduate engineering students so they can create personal value, economic and societal thanks to their work. GW has been a KEEN partner since 2018.

The project explores three distinct avenues to improve the undergraduate research experience. The first, “URCurious”, will explore the integration of undergraduate research experience into engineering courses. GW will spearhead this task. Professors from each SEAS department will identify a core course where real research challenges can be integrated into the courses. This will be launched next fall. This would ensure that all students will experience at least one real-world research project during their engineering studies, Zara said.

Ekundayo Shittuassociate professor in the SEAS Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and co-principal investigator of this project, said integrating research into teaching provides students with risk-free opportunities to explore career alternatives, acquire transferable skills and contribute to knowledge in different ways. which are beneficial to society.

“Our continued commitment to integrating research into teaching will be greatly strengthened by the support we have now received. We, together with our KEEN partners, will be able to engage more faculty and students to create value for others,” Shittu said. “Specifically, it will enable us to break down barriers to entrepreneurship in our students, fuel their curiosity, and allow them to thrive in the limitless possibilities that academic research offers.”

The second task, “URSkilled”, is the development of training modules for students and research mentors that aim to support research and mentoring skills for each party respectively. Students and mentors will be able to earn credentials for completing these modules, serving as a motivation and connection tool for the third task, “URConnected”, which will connect students with mentors who need help in the research.

Project collaborators will create a matching algorithm designed to remove bias from the selection process, allowing mentors to enter the skills they seek and be matched with a student who possesses those skills. The goal is to increase access for students, save time for research mentors, and create an environment in which students, mentors, and research partners can propose and explore collaborative projects.

“This could help us identify talent and interests in a number of ways and can help identify students who have both the interest and skills needed for particular research projects, allowing for better matching of students. opportunities,” Zara said.

At the end of the third year, all collaborating institutions are committed to implementing the tools developed in each of the three focus areas in a way that makes sense for the specific university.

According to Zara, the research experience is instructive for students, as it gives them the opportunity to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and how they would apply that knowledge in their professional careers. The research also gives students experience in dealing with real-world challenges, he explained. Armed with stories about working in the lab, students will be ready to talk about how they solve problems, overcome adversity, and ask thought-provoking questions when it comes time to interview for a job.

“If you’re lucky, your search experience helps you find your passion,” Zara said.

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