skip to main content

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
Authors:
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1355872
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10067335
Journal Name:
American Society for Engineering Education
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The NSF S-STEM funded SPIRIT: Scholarship Program Initiative via Recruitment, Innovation, and Transformation program at Western Carolina University creates a new approach to the recruitment, retention, education, and placement of academically talented and financially needy engineering and engineering technology students. Twenty-seven new and continuing students were recruited into interdisciplinary cohorts that are being nurtured and developed in a community characterized by extensive peer and faculty mentoring, vertically integrated Project Based Learning (PBL), and undergraduate research experiences. The SPIRIT Scholar program attracted a diverse group of Engineering and Engineering Technology students, thus increasing the percentage of female and minority student participationmore »as compared to the host department program demographics. Over the last academic year, fifty-four undergraduate research projects/activities were conducted by the twenty-seven scholars under the direction of twelve faculty fellows. Additionally, peer-to-peer mentorship and student leadership were developed through the program’s vertically integrated PBL model, which incorporated four courses and seven small-group design projects. Academic and professional support for the student scholars were administered through collaborations with several offices at the host institution, including an industry-engaged product development center. The program participants reported strong benefits from engaging in the program activities during the first year. Specifically, this paper presents results from the program activities, including: cohort recruitment and demographics; support services; undergraduate research; vertically integrated PBL activities; and the external review of the program. Similar programs may benefit from the findings and the external review report, which contained several accolades as well as suggestions for potential continuous improvement.« less
  2. The National Science Foundation’s funded ($625,179) SPIRIT: Scholarship Program Initiative via Recruitment, Innovation, and Transformation at Western Carolina University creates a new approach to the recruitment, retention, education, and placement of academically talented and financially needy engineering and engineering technology students. Twenty-Seven new and continuing students were recruited into horizontally and vertically integrated cohorts that will be nurtured and developed in a Project Based Learning (PBL) community characterized by extensive faculty mentoring, fundamental and applied undergraduate research, hands-on design projects, and industry engagement. Our horizontal integration method creates sub-cohorts with same-year students from different disciplines (electrical, mechanical, etc.) to workmore »in an environment that reflects how engineers work in the real world. Our vertical integration method enables sub-cohorts from different years to work together on different stages of projects in a PBL setting. The objectives of the SPIRIT program will ensure an interdisciplinary environment that enhances technical competency through learning outcomes that seek to improve critical skills such as intentional learning, problem solving, teamwork, management, interpersonal communications, and leadership. Support for the student scholars participating in this program incorporates several existing support services offered by the host institution and school, including a university product development center. This paper will discuss several aspects of the program including participant selection and initial cohort demographics; implementation of the vertical-based cohort model in PBL; program and student assessment models; and associated student activities and artifact collection used to foster student success in the program and after graduation. Successful implementation of the SPIRIT program will create a replicable model that will broadly impact 21st century engineering education and workforce preparedness.« less
  3. In engineering, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities are classified as underrepresented minorities. Although strides have been made at the undergraduate level, diversity in faculty and academic administration positions still lags. This paper will present our approach and preliminary results of a National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored collaborative project to broaden the participation of underrepresented engineering minorities in engineering academia by providing participants with an improved skill set for entry into a faculty position. This project, comprised of a two-week intensive summer professional preparation training in conjunction with year-long activities, built upon the findings of a previousmore »NSF 1.5-day workshop. The specific goals of the project include: 1. increase the awareness of what is "needed" to be an assistant professor; 2. quantify the specific areas PhD students and post-docs identified they need the most assistance with; 3. increase participant knowledge on effective STEM undergraduate learning;
4. advance the awareness and skills pertaining to curriculum development, delivery and assessment;
5. enhance the establishment of a research career; and 6. increase participant networking opportunities. Achievement of these goals will yield a more diverse and better prepared set of engineering educators, leading to better-equipped engineers entering the workforce. The first summer intensive professional preparation had 12 participants from the host institution, universities in the same geographical regions as the host, and from the collaborating institutions. Seventy-five percent of the ACADEME (Advancing Career in Academics with Diversity and Mentorship in Engineering) Fellows strongly agreed that the summer training content was useful for his/her professional development and 100% agreed that they would recommend the program to their peers. In addition to providing the assessment results from the first summer professional training, this paper includes recommendations from ACADEME Fellows for enhancing future summer sessions, results of a survey of a non-cohort group, lessons learned from recruiting, and the most effective activities during the academic year.« less
  4. Intelligent Autonomous Systems, including Intelligent Manufacturing & Automation and Industry 4.0, have immense potential to improve human health, safety, and welfare. Engineering these systems requires an interdisciplinary knowledge of mechanical, electrical, computer, software, and systems engineering throughout the design and development process. Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (MRE) is emerging as a discipline that can provide the broad inter-disciplinary technical and professional skill sets that are critical to fulfill the research and development needs for these advanced systems. Despite experiencing tremendous, dynamic growth, MRE lacks a settled-on and agreed-upon body-of-knowledge, leading to unmet needs for standardized curricula, courses, laboratory platforms, andmore »accreditation criteria, resulting in missed career opportunities for individuals and missed economic opportunities for industry. There have been many educational efforts around MRE, including courses, minors, and degree programs, but they have not been well integrated or widely adopted, especially in USA. To enable MRE to coalesce as a distinct and identifiable engineering field, the authors conducted four workshops on the Future of Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering (FoMRE) education at the bachelor’s degree level. The overall goal of the workshops was to improve the quality of undergraduate MRE education and to ease the adoption of teaching materials to prepare graduates with a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical hands-on skills. To realize this goal, the specific objectives were to generate enthusiasm and a sense of community among current and future MRE educators, promote diversity and inclusivity within the MRE community, identify thought leaders, and seek feedback from the community to serve as a foundation for future activities. The workshops were intended to benefit a wide range of participants including educators currently teaching or developing programs in MRE, PhD students seeking academic careers in MRE, and industry professionals desiring to shape the future workforce. Workshop activities included short presentations on sample MRE programs, breakout sessions on specific topics, and open discussion sessions. As a result of these workshops, the MRE educational community has been enlarged and engaged, with members actively contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning. This paper presents the workshops’ formats, outcomes, results of participant surveys, and their analyses. A major outcome was identifying concept, skill, and experience inventories organized around the dimensions of foundational/practical/applications and student preparation/MRE knowledgebase. Particular attention is given to the extent to which the workshops realized the project goals, including attendee demographics, changes in participant attitudes, and development of the MRE community. The paper concludes with a summary of lessons learned and a call for future activities to shape the field.« less
  5. Natural disasters, such as 2017 hurricanes Irma and María, the 2020 earthquakes in Puerto Rico and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, affect students in many aspects including economic, socio-emotional, and academic performance progress. To ensure that students can cope with the aftermath of such searing events, it is necessary to develop initiatives that address these three aspects. Satisfying the financial need is essential, but a long-term solution is mandatory. Hence, providing socio-emotional and academic support and cultivating a sense of purpose are critical to prevent attrition. To secure continued STEM success among students affected by natural disasters, the National Science Foundationmore »has funded several projects at the University of Puerto Rico, a Hispanic Serving Institution. This manuscript presents four NSF-funded projects sharing the common goal of providing support to STEM students to ensure that they succeed despite the said challenges. The first project, titled Nanotechnology Center for Biomedical, Environmental and Sustainability Application, leans heavily on research teams dedicated to design new Nanotechnology platforms to address biomedical and environmental challenges and simultaneously trains a new generation of nanoengineers and nanoscientists throughout the educational echelon starting from public intermediate schools through doctoral programs. The second project, entitled Ecosystem to Expand Capabilities and Opportunities for STEM-Scholars (EECOS), developed an integrated framework that provides support to 62 low-income, talented, STEM students who were severely affected by Hurricane María and 2019-2020 earthquakes (58 undergraduate and 4 graduate). The project provided participants with financial, academic, socio-emotional, and career motivation support needed to complete their programs. The third project, Program for Engineering Access, Retention, and LIATS Success (PEARLS) addresses college access and economic hardships of Low-Income Academically Talented Students (LIATS). It aims at increasing the retention and academic success of talented engineering students coming from economically disadvantaged families. The fourth project, Resilient Infrastructure and Sustainability Education – Undergraduate Program (RISE-UP), has developed an interdisciplinary curriculum to educate cadres of Hispanic students on infrastructure resilience to temper and to overcome the effects of such natural disasters. Three campuses of this institution system collaborate in this interdisciplinary undertaking. Participating students are pursuing undergraduate degrees in engineering, architecture, and surveying who take the entailed courses together and participate in co-curricular activities (both online and in-person through site visits). The new curricular endeavor prepares them to design infrastructure that can withstand the impact of natural events. The expect outcome is to form cohorts of graduates ready to take on real-life infrastructure failures caused by disasters and provide them with an edge in their future professions. The present work provides a range of scalable and portable strategies that universities with underrepresented minorities in STEM programs could deploy to address the immediate and continued needs of students affected by natural disasters to secure academic success. These strategies can contribute to the development of professionals with the skills and experience to deal with severe circumstances such as those effected by natural disasters as well as the preparation to solve infrastructure challenges.« less