This three year REU Site program provides research opportunities to a group of ten motivated undergraduate students for 11 summer weeks each year . The intellectual focus of the program is sensor technology. The topics include sensor phenomena & materials, nano and micro-sensor technology, bio-inspired sensors, sensor systems for robotics and bio-medical applications. Projects are carefully selected based on the educational value and appropriateness for undergraduate students. In addition to the research projects, the program offers a series of enhancement activities to help students become more confident as a researcher, including workshops on doing research, reading and writing technical papers, giving presentations, preparing for and applying to graduate school, workshop on ethics in engineering, and diversity in the workplace & community building. Regular participation in research meetings, lunch clubs and seminars will further foster a collegial interaction among peers and advisors.

Participants in the program will come to realize how their research impacts society through advances in sensor technologies, medical diagnostic devices, biomedical sensors, robotics, among others. Recruitment efforts will target undergraduate students from underrepresented groups and smaller colleges with no or limited research opportunities with the aim to increase the pool of engineering graduate students. The results of the research will be presented at a symposium that will be open to the public. In addition, a yearly SUNFEST report will be made available on the website, including individual slide presentations and reports. Students are encouraged to publish their work in technical journal and conference proceedings.

This site is co-funded by the Department of Defense in partnership with the NSF REU program.

Project Report

For 2013, the specific outcomes of the SUNFEST Program—consistent with its goals--were Recruit Under-represented Students. This year, all ten students self-identified as members of under-represented groups (5 African-American, 3 Latino / Latina, 2 other minority); of these, 2 were also women. Further, students from diverse institutions were represented, but the vast majority (between 80-90%) had not been able to participate in rigorous research at their schools. Offer Professional-development Opportunities to Students to Develop Skills Needed to Become Researchers / Engineers. This year, the program organized 9 workshops: 1) Technical Writing, 2) How to Do Research, 3) Information Retrieval, 4) Research Tips, 5) Professional Ethics for Engineers, 6) "Finding Solutions v. Finding Questions," 7) Delivering a Research Presentation, 8) Applying to Graduate School, and 9) Creating a Conference Poster. In addition, there were several informal "Lunch Clubs," during which scholars shared details of their research. Lab safety training was also provided. These workshops were tremendously well-received—90% of students said they were crucial and helpful learning experiences. Provide Authentic Research Projects to Advance the Field of Sensor Technologies. Each student was mentored by a faculty member (PI); the PI, in collaboration with graduate students and post-docs in the lab, guided the students in conducting original research. The students also completed several structured assignments that supported their research work—a proposal, a literature review, a final report of findings, a conference poster, and an oral presentation. All students completed these assignments successfully. At summer’s end, moreover, nearly 80% felt immersed in a scientific community. Fully 100% felt they had engaged in genuine scientific research, and 100% also thought of themselves as scientists. In working as scientists, nearly 90% creatively solved problems, 100% worked extra hours because they were excited about their projects, and 100% felt that they had individual responsibility over their work. Students produced results that advanced the field of sensor technologies, as well as related fields of medicine, neuroscience, materials science, architectural engineering, chemistry, robotics, and so on. The results of students’ research projects are also disseminated widely to a diverse array of communities. For one, the end-of-summer REU Symposium is open to the university community and to the public. Many students go on to publish their work in scientific journals. The students’ complete research reports and presentation slideshows are also available to the general public and the research communities on the SUNFEST website at: Strengthen Students’ Scientific Content Knowledge. Even with their strong prior preparation in biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and physics, students—by-and-large—felt that the SUNFEST program had deepened their grasp of science concepts by program’s end. Between 40% and 90% of students felt their understanding of basic science had "modestly" or "greatly" improved. 100% stated that their improvement in sensor technologies was "modest" or "great." Finally, 90% reported that they "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that their research projects helped them prepare for advanced undergraduate coursework or a thesis. Develop Students’ General Research Skills. In contrast to the summer’s beginning, the students’ confidence in basic research skills clearly improved by the end of the program. About 80% felt that they were "strong" or "expert" at reviewing relevant research literature, and 55% felt they could document their work effectively. They also reported strengths (between 55% and 85%) in using statistics, calibrating measurements, solving problems, and identifying limitations of research designs. Further, nearly 90% reported confidence in being able to conduct independent research, 100% a willingness to consult with peers, and most tellingly, 100% felt strongly that they could make contributions to science. Nearly 80% felt prepared to write research papers and create posters, while 70% felt able to deliver oral presentations on their research. Heighten / Confirm Students’ Graduate School and Career Aspirations, Encouraging Them to Participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics Industries / Research. Half of the students reported that the program had heightened / confirmed career and educational plans. This generally meant maintaining a trajectory of pursuing a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in engineering and working in industry. Half reported that the program had motivated them to change their plans; the changes contemplated by the students involved pursuing a Ph.D. or doing research. Build Community and Provide Mentoring Opportunities for Students. The program provides social activities and opportunities for students to interact socially with scholars. SUNFEST students also live together in a centrally-located campus house. Students universally reported satisfaction (100%) with these social activities. These students will likely become graduate students, researchers, or industry professionals in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and so supporting their networking opportunities is key to developing a stronger future workforce. In addition, by recruiting students from under-represented populations, the program helps to build the diversity and capacity of the engineering workforce (and that of related fields, including the research field).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC)
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Esther Bolding
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University of Pennsylvania
United States
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