This program is a collaborative endeavor between two NSF-funded Engineering Research Centers, providing undergraduates immersive research experiences through exploration of various aspects of one of our generation’s most crucial challenges: Energy. The primary goal of the program is to create a multidisciplinary, diverse, and engaging learning space for REU students with a focus on broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM graduate programs.
Unlike traditional REUs that often focus on a singular topic, this Center collaboration provides research experiences and discussions on broader applications of energy innovations. Participants explore the spectrum of energy research from nano-scale harvesting to the larger scale smart grid technologies. The research foci of the two Centers provide a unique combination of nano-scale and large-scale energy harvesting, management, and distribution. Energy harvesting from the human body for health applications attracts students who may be interested in the medical and environmental fields and would otherwise not consider graduate study in an engineering discipline. At the same time, large-scale applications of renewable energy systems are also available including power engineering, power electronics, advanced vehicle technologies, and battery storage. By combining the two Centers, students have the opportunity to pursue independent projects in a variety of different engineering areas, which allows us to accommodate a wide range of student interests.
Given the limited exposure of undergraduates to the field of energy research, this REU site addresses a niche need in REU opportunities. The implications of increased knowledge of energy cannot be understated, as the national discussions around renewable energy remain contentious and would benefit from a more informed society. This REU site moves us closer to this goal through both the encouragement of individuals to participate in related research and careers, and their ability to become ambassadors of this information to their peers, families, and communities.
Now in its third year, the site has hosted two cohorts of students and is currently in the recruiting process for its last cohort. This paper will evaluate the impact of recruitment strategies, leading to 45% underrepresented racial or ethnic minority participants, 25% female participants, and 60% participants from Community Colleges (35%) or other primarily undergraduate institutions without high research activity (25%). It will also address student retention either through transfer to 4-year institutions, or transition to graduate programs. The overall structure of the program will be described including individual project examples and cohort-wide professional and technical development activities. Impact will be addressed based on pre-post survey data as well as direct assessment of student skills in targeted areas. Authors will discuss collaboration strategies and lessons learned in addition to presenting results from the program’s ongoing assessment efforts.
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