Promoting undergraduate research by creating a research option in a technical communication course

Michael P. Alley, Jenny Lo, Whitney Edmister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although many institutions have called for more undergraduate research, incorporating significant research experiences into undergraduate engineering curricula has proven to be challenging. This paper presents the results of an experiment in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech to address this problem by means of a research option in the traditional technical communication course, which is a required course in many engineering curricula. In this research option, students had the opportunity to prepare for and to document a summer research experience. To that end, the research option of the course was divided into two segments: (1) a spring segment to prepare students for a summer research experience, and (2) a fall segment to teach students how to document that research experience. This research option culminated with the students participating in an undergraduate research symposium that showed other undergraduates the benefits of and the opportunities for research experiences. For the Spring 2005 segment of the course, 20 of the 25 designated slots were filled, those 20 students had high academic achievements (an average GPA of 3.7/4.0), and 11 of the 20 students were from underrepresented groups in engineering. During that Spring 2005 segment, all 20 students secured offers for funded research positions over the summer, with more than half of those positions occurring at research institutions other than Virginia Tech: MIT, Georgia Tech, Penn State, the University of Illinois, Vanderbilt, the University of South Carolina, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. For the Fall 2005 segment, 15 of the original 20 students enrolled, with 2 of the remaining 5 students opting to take a co-op and the other 3 choosing to continue their studies without taking the second segment. In this Fall 2005 course, the 15 students documented their summer research through a poster, a formal presentation, and a formal article. Although more time is needed to assess the effect of this course's research experiences on the careers of these students, the course appears to be a success. The quality of the communication assignments produced by the students indicates that the students gained much from the course. Supporting that assessment is that several students in the course have had conference papers of their research accepted, several students have applied for graduate research fellowships, and all those who are graduating this year have applied to graduate school. This first offering of the research course sequence has provided several valuable lessons to the instructors that will make next year's offering of this course proceed much more smoothly. Given that, other engineering colleges in the country should consider such a research course sequence for at least one section of the technical communication courses that their engineering students take.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering(all)


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