With increasing demands for high performance in structural systems, Smart Structures Technologies (SST) is receiving considerable attention as it has the potential to transform many fields in engineering, including civil, mechanical, aerospace, and geotechnical engineering. Both the academic and industrial worlds are seeking ways to utilize SST, however, there is a significant gap between the engineering science in academia and engineering practice in the industry.
To respond to this challenge, San Francisco State University and the University of South Carolina collaborated with industrial partners to establish a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site program, focusing on academia-industry collaborations in SST. This REU program intends to train undergraduate students to serve as the catalysts to facilitate the research infusion between academic and industrial partners. This student-driven joint venture between academia and industry is expected to establish a virtuous circle for knowledge exchange and contribute to advancing fundamental research and implementation of SST. The program features: formal training, workshops, and supplemental activities in the conduct of research in academia and industry; innovative research experience through engagement in projects with scientific and practical merits in both academic and industrial environments; experience in conducting laboratory experiments; and opportunities to present the research outcomes to the broader community at professional settings. This REU program provides engineering undergraduate students with unique research experience in both academic and industrial settings through cooperative research projects. Experiencing research in both worlds is expected to help students transition from a relatively dependent status to an independent status as their competence level increases.
The joint efforts among two institutions and industry partners provide the project team with extensive access to valuable resources, such as expertise to offer a wider-range of informative training workshops, advanced equipment, valuable data sets, experienced mentors for the undergraduate researchers, and professional connections, that would facilitate a meaningful REU experience. Recruitment of participants targeted 20 collaborating minority and primarily undergraduate institutions (15 of them are Hispanic-Serving Institutions, HSI) with limited science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research capabilities. The model developed through this program may help to exemplify the establishment of a sustainable collaboration model between academia and industry that helps address the nation's need for mature, independent, informed, and globally competitive STEM professionals and could be adapted to other disciplines.
In this paper, the details of the first-year program are described. The challenges and lessons-learned on the collaboration between the two participating universities, communications with industrial partners, recruitment of the students, set up of the evaluation plans, and development and implementation of the program are discussed. The preliminary evaluation results and recommendations are also shared.
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