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Title: Scholarship Program Initiative via Recruitment, Innovation, and Transformation (SPIRIT): S-STEM Program Initiatives and Early Results
This paper describes the structure, project initiatives, and early results of the NSF S-STEM funded SPIRIT: Scholarship Program Initiative via Recruitment, Innovation, and Transformation program at Western Carolina University (WCU). SPIRIT is a scholarship program focused on building an interdisciplinary engineering learning community involved in extensive peer and faculty mentoring, vertically-integrated Project Based Learning (PBL), and undergraduate research experiences. The program has provided twenty-six scholarships and academic resources to a diverse group of engineering and engineering technology students. Results from several project initiatives have been promising. Recruitment efforts have resulted in a demographically diverse group of participants whose retention rates within the program have held at 82%. A vibrant learning community has organically developed where participants are provided both academic and non-academic support across several majors and grade classes. Since May 2014, SPIRIT undergraduate research projects have resulted in forty-five presentations at seven different undergraduate and professional conferences. Twenty-seven PBL and five integrated open-ended design challenges have been completed, involving several corporate sponsors and encompassing a wide-range of engineering topics. Results from a ninety-question participant survey revealed several perceived program strengths and areas of possible improvement. Overall, the participants agreed or strongly agreed that the program had been a positive more » experience (4.0/4.0) and had helped them to prepare for a career in engineering (3.8/4.0). Undergraduate research activities conducted through the program have helped the participants to understand the steps involved in research processes (3.8/4.0), to appreciate the need for a combination of analysis and hands-on skills (4.0/4.0), and to become more resilient toward academic challenges and obstacles (3.8/4.0). The program’s learning community helped participants build relationships with other students outside of their major (3.1/4.0) as compared to normal course communities. Several participants believed that they were more comfortable with seeking advice from upper class students within the program (3.7/4.0) as compared to upper class students outside the program (2.7/4.0). Vertically-integrated PBL activities helped participants in understanding project management techniques (3.8/4.0), teaming techniques (3.7/4.0), and to assume a leadership role on projects (3.6/4.0). Indicated areas of program improvement included the desire and need for a system of peer-review for the students’ undergraduate research papers; a perceived hindrance to benefit from “journaling” about their program experiences (3.6/4.0); and a need for continued strengthening of activities associated with graduate school application processes as well as preparations for job interviews and applications. This paper presents details of the program initiatives, a compilation of survey results with necessary discussion, and areas of possible improvement going forward. « less
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American Society for Engineering Education
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National Science Foundation
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