Y.-H. Lu, T. J. Hacker, C. B. Zoltowski, and J. Allebach, (2016, June), "Cross-Cohort Research Experience for Project Management and Leadership Development," Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26604
Cross-Cohort Research Experience for Project Management and Leadership Development
Project management and leadership skills are essential for career development. However, in typical university settings, undergraduate students take different courses and work on different projects in different teams each semester. As a result, students lack opportunities to work on multi-year projects and develop the skills essential for long-term planning. To remedy this situation, our department has created elective courses that allow students from all years (first-year students to graduate students) to work on research projects under the supervision of faculty members and the mentorship of senior graduate students. These projects provide the opportunities for students to learn many skills essential in workplace, such as (1) understanding how projects are designed and managed; (2) taking responsibilities on different components in the projects; (3) learning computer tools for collaboration and integration; (4) developing leadership skills; (5) cultivating self-learning; and (6) improving communication, both speaking and writing. This paper reports one project that involves undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students. The project, now in its fifth year, builds computer tools for researchers, educators, and students using cloud computing for large-scale image analysis. The project has received an award in a student competition, and three research grants for international collaboration, entrepreneurship, and big data analytics, and produced more than a dozen research papers. This paper describes the project in detail and shares experiences on many crucial factors necessary for creating a successful cross-cohort research project. Research experience is not required in typical undergraduate curricula; thus, it is essential to recruit well qualified and interested students. From the beginning of this project, there was a clear goal to create software tools that would become available to the research community. The opportunity to serve real users is appealing to many students. In order to build software tools for users, this project has established rigorous procedures common in commercial software development such as version control, testing, documentation, and so on. Leadership development is another key component: if a student continues in this project over multiple semesters, the student may be promoted to lead a subteam or the entire team. In addition to learning technical skills, the team has participated in multiple student competitions and has won the second prize in one competition. This project also encourages entrepreneurship: a group of students plan to start a company after they have interviewed potential customers exploring the feasibility of commercializing the technology and investigating market-product match. Four foreign institutions are collaborators of the project and the students have experience working with these collaborators through video conferencing.