Journal of Educational and Management Studies  
J. Educ. Manage. Stud., 10(3): 40-47, September 25, 2020  
License: CC BY 4.0,  
ISSN: 2322-4770  
Enhancing STEM Students’ Success through Faculty-  
Mentored Undergraduate Research and Scholarship  
Aschalew Kassu  
Department of Mechanical, Civil Engineering & Construction Management, Alabama A&M University, Normal, AL-35762, USA  
Email: aschalew.kassu@aamu.edu;  
ABSTRACT  
Original Article  
Engaging students in faculty-mentored undergraduate research projects have been  
documented as an indispensable element in retention and enhancing STEM (science,  
technology, engineering and mathematics) students’ learning experiences. In this paper, we  
report the outcome of the mentoring program, financial support of students in terms of the  
monthly stipend and tuition, and involving undergraduate students in research activities  
under the supervision of faculty members. The exploratory research is aimed at reporting the  
experiences gained from the five years scholarship and faculty-mentored undergraduate  
research program and the outcomes of engaging the students in paid research activities, and  
the awards and recognitions received by the students at a minority-serving institution (MSI).  
The work attempts to measure the students’ satisfaction and the contribution of the  
scholarship program with respect to the students’ academic achievements, graduate school  
PII: S232247702000005-10  
Rec. 02 August, 2020  
Acc. 01 September, 2020  
Pub. 25 September, 2020  
Keywords  
Faculty-mentored  
undergraduate research,  
enrollment in STEM discipline, paid internship and co-op and job opportunities secured by the undergraduate research  
students. The results of the students’ survey indicated that the scholarship and mentoring  
program positively impacted their success in securing summer internships and co-ops,  
admission to graduate schools, and employment opportunities. The results of the study will  
have a contribution to the existing body of literature in providing additional insight into the  
likely positive influence of scholarship funding allocated and provided to students by academic  
institutions, government agencies, and private organizations in enhancing the educational and  
professional success of undergraduate students.  
mentorship,  
undergraduate research  
experience,  
STEM education,  
STEM scholarship  
projects under the direction of faculty mentors. In  
addition to the financial support, the scholarship  
program encouraged the students to spend more time  
attending classes, studying, and participating in other  
academic-related and professional activities both on  
and off-campus, such as involving in student chapters  
and professional networking events than seeking off-  
campus employment opportunities. This positively  
contributed to the students in maintaining a good  
GPA, which is one of the primary factors for other on-  
and off-campus scholarships, securing summer  
internships and co-ops, completing their under-  
graduate curriculum in less than five years, obtain  
employment opportunities and pursue graduate  
studies in STEM disciple. The financial support also  
served as one of the motivational factors for the  
students to spend more time in the labs and be an  
active participant in the research activities, collecting  
data, interpret experimental results and draw  
conclusions, attend conferences and present their  
research findings. The hands-on research experiences  
INTRODUCTION  
The funding received from the Department of  
Homeland Security (DHS) through the Scientific  
Leadership Award (SLA) provided us the opportunities  
to involve several underrepresented-minority  
undergraduate STEM students majoring in eng-  
ineering and physical sciences. The DHS-SLA project  
provided financial scholarships in the form of monthly  
stipends and in-state tuition payments for fall and  
spring semesters. Qualified undergraduate students  
were recruited and assigned to faculty mentors to  
work on research projects, primarily in their major  
discipline. The project also provided travel support to  
the participating students to attend professional  
conferences and present their research findings at  
local, regional, and national scientific conferences.  
Under the scholarship and mentoring program we  
initiated  
in  
2015,  
annually,  
about  
fifteen  
underrepresented minority STEM students have been  
awarded scholarships and participated in research  
To cite this paper: Kassu A. (2020). Enhancing STEM Students’ Success through Faculty-Mentored Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. J. Educ. Manage. Stud.,  
40  
J. Educ. Manage. Stud., 10(3): 40-47, 2020  
and experimental techniques learned also make them  
outstanding candidates in their endeavor to pursue  
graduate studies and as STEM professionals.  
positive outcome of undergraduate research and the  
hands-on experiences on the students’ creativity and  
promising entrepreneurial role (Zhan et al., 2018). A  
‘Learning by Research’ approach whereby the class  
lectures are supplemented with experimental  
research is reported to have a major influence on  
building sustained research interest, understanding of  
the core principles of the subject matter (Costa, 2000),  
motivates creative thinking, product development,  
and entrepreneurial mindset (Zhan et al., 2018).  
Undergraduate research also enhances students’ self-  
This work aims to study the effects of the  
financial support provided to students in the form of a  
tuition scholarship and a monthly stipend, and the  
faculty-mentored undergraduate research activities  
on students’ academic and professional successes. To  
accomplish this goal, the paper is organized as  
follows. The next section summarizes a review of  
literature closely related to the current study,  
followed by the methodological approach. Next, the  
results and discussions of the findings are presented.  
The last section of the paper provides concluding  
remarks on the key observations and findings of the  
study.  
confidence,  
communication  
skills,  
and  
competitiveness in the labor market and their  
persistence in the professional careers in their field of  
studies, increasing the number of underrepresented  
minorities in science, technology, and engineering  
Involving undergraduate students in research  
projects also has a positive correlation with retention  
of underrepresented minority students in STEM  
discipline and the students’ success in research  
related STEM carrier. It is also a motivating factor for  
the students to pursue graduate studies in STEM  
fields earning a graduate degree in STEM fields (Linn  
survey collected from participants, institutional data  
on student credit hour and GPA, and controlling the  
students’ initial academic level with their SAT score  
(Fechheimer et al., 2011), analyzed the statistical  
Review of literature  
Involving undergraduate students in research  
projects have been documented as an essential  
element of STEM discipline in retention and  
enhancing students’ learning experiences (Amaya et  
al., 2018; Linn et al., 2015). Studies found that, besides  
strengthening the traditional students’ learning  
experiences and providing practical laboratory and  
research experiences during their undergraduate  
studies, the experiences gained are highly beneficial in  
developing their professional identity (Hunter et al.,  
2006). The students with undergraduate research  
experiences demonstrated better interest and  
motivation to advance professional careers in STEM-  
related fields and pursue graduate-level studies  
undergraduate Biological Sciences majors involved in  
an educational enrichment program in improving the  
participants’ interest in their persistence in earning  
an undergraduate degree and pursuing a graduate  
degree. The results indicate that involving  
underrepresented minority students in research and  
educational enrichment programs improves the  
student persistence in earning an undergraduate  
degree and encourages them to pursue graduate  
programs in STEM discipline (Barlow and Villarejo,  
2004). There are also research findings suggesting the  
correlation  
between  
extended  
undergraduate  
research class participation and their GPA. The  
findings indicate that students’ engagement in the  
research was likely to earn a higher GPA, which  
promotes  
students’  
success  
and  
academic  
performance as measured by their GPA compared  
with the students who do not participate in  
undergraduate research. As a result of all these  
benefits, state and federal governmental agencies,  
private and non-profit organizations and professional  
societies have been vital in providing internship and  
co-op opportunities to students and allocate grant  
funding to support scholarship and mentoring  
programs for graduate and undergraduate students.  
The  
scholarship  
and  
faculty-mentored  
undergraduate program discussed here is different  
41  
Kassu, 2020  
from the traditional Research Experience for  
and 2019/20 academic years, respectively. Overall, the  
results of the survey suggested that the female  
student participants were highly satisfied as  
compared with the male students mentored under the  
program. Based on the two academic years’ aggregate  
response, the female students who ‘strongly agreed’  
and ‘agreed’ with all the survey questionnaires  
distributed were about 53 and 64 percent,  
respectively. In general, except during the midterm  
and final exam weeks, the mentees were required to  
participate in the research activities in the lab and  
interact with the faculty mentor for about one to two  
days a week. The weekly meetings and interactions of  
the undergraduate students with faculty researchers  
facilitate timely guidance and encouragement, which  
improves students’ success (Aikens et al., 2017). For  
Undergraduates (REUs), and a Course-Based Under-  
graduate Research Experiences (CUREs) offered as an  
integral part of a discipline-specific curriculum. In  
both cases, the students have the opportunities to be  
engaged in research activities during summer for  
REUs and a semester-long research exposure for  
CUREs. There is compelling evidence suggesting that  
the research experiences provided through these  
programs are beneficial to the students involved.  
However, there are also research findings suggesting  
that undergraduate research experiences designed to  
provide repeated and long-term research experiences  
are more useful to students than programs providing  
short-term research experiences to undergraduate  
since our program was established with five-years  
sustainable funding from the Department of  
Homeland Security, we were able to provide long-  
term (more than a year) financial support and faculty-  
mentored research experiences for underrepresented  
minority undergraduate STEM students at MSI. The  
long-term and repeated research opportunities  
enabled the participants to have sufficient time to  
understand the research project, collect experimental  
data, analyze the results, and draw conclusions.  
underrepresented  
mentored undergraduate research is  
minority  
students,  
faculty-  
highly  
a
significant predictor of students’ learning outcomes,  
including knowledge and skills gained, GPA of  
students, improved faculty-student interactions, and  
the overall students’ satisfaction (Collins et al., 2017;  
Eagan et al., 2013). The weekly meetings with the  
research mentors, the end of semester seminar series  
presentations by all the mentees, the institutional  
annual STEM day poster presentations, attendances  
and presentations at local, regional and national  
conferences, and the refereed and conference articles  
fostering undergraduate students are also used as  
assessment matrices measuring the success of the  
program. The students’ benefit in terms of scholarly  
METHODOLOGY  
The scholarship and mentoring program was initiated  
in 2015 and had been involving undergraduate STEM  
students every year for the past five years. The  
program leveraged the institutional resources within  
the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences,  
including the research labs and voluntary intellectual  
contributions of faculty researchers. Figure 1 shows  
the undergraduate students’ academic major  
participated in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic  
years. As shown in the figure, the students’ major and  
the scholarship awarded students encompass a wide  
range of STEM disciplines, including Physics,  
Chemistry, Construction, Mechanical Engineering,  
and Electrical Engineering. All the students recruited  
and mentored under this project have been all  
underrepresented minorities, with about 75 percent  
and 64 percent being female students in the 2018/19  
productivity is also measured by including  
a
questionnaire relevant to the number of the poster or  
oral presentations in local, regional, or national  
conferences, and the participation of the students’ in  
scientific literature review and writing refereed  
journal articles and conference proceedings.  
To understand the level of significance of the  
faculty-mentored undergraduate research and  
scholarship program, the students’ satisfaction and  
perceptions of the research experiences, the awards  
and recognitions received, the conferences attended  
and papers presented and research articles published  
as a co-author, a survey with five levels Likert scale  
(strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree  
(neutral), disagree and strongly disagree) have been  
developed and distributed at the end of each academic  
42  
J. Educ. Manage. Stud., 10(3): 40-47, 2020  
years. Besides, the students have been required to  
adulterants in food including olive oil, detection and  
identification of nitrates and other chemicals,  
fabrication and characterization of nanocomposite  
films, fabrication and characterization of thin-film  
thermoelectric devices, carbon nano-tube-based nano-  
electronics devices and integrated circuits, functional  
nanomaterials for energy harvesting applications, and  
optical characterization of crystals. For instance, in  
addition to the spectral analysis of materials, the  
students used FTIR and Raman systems to monitor  
the rate of hydration of cement mortar, and study the  
effect of thermal annealing on thermoelectric  
multilayer films. The results of the research findings  
have produced several presentations by the  
undergraduate students and co-authorship of  
scholarly articles, including refereed journal articles  
and conference proceedings. We believe that the  
scholarship, the research experiences provided, and  
the scholarly products enhanced the students’ resume  
and their competence in the professional world. It is  
documented that continuing-generation and students  
from high-income families more likely to publish  
research articles during their undergraduate study  
than first-generation and students with low-income  
family backgrounds (Grineski et al., 2018). Our  
scholarship program has its share of contribution in  
closing such disparities and enhancing socially  
disadvantaged minority undergraduate STEM  
students’ co-authorship of research articles and  
diversity in STEM discipline and workforce.  
submit a summary report listing the conferences  
attended; the summer internships participated, a list  
of articles they co-authored, and other significant  
accomplishments achieved within the academic year  
and the summer semesters. The results of the  
students’ survey are summarized in Figure 2.  
Figure 1. Participants’ academic major and gender  
participated in the mentoring and scholarship  
activities in 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years.  
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION  
The scholarship and the undergraduate research  
program implemented at Alabama Agricultural and  
Mechanical University provided a research and  
networking platform for a diverse body of STEM  
undergraduate students among themselves and with  
the participating faculty researchers. The program  
supported the scholarship recipients as monthly  
stipends and full in-state tuitions. As reported earlier  
(Barlow and Villarejo, 2004), minority students  
receiving scholarships and grants are more likely to  
persist in their study and earn their undergraduate  
diploma than students of the same background taking  
student loans. The scholarship and mentoring  
program offered practical research experiences to the  
scholarship recipients in the broad areas of materials  
characterization including Fourier transform infrared  
(FTIR) and Raman spectroscopy of building materials,  
The mentee participated in the undergraduate  
research activities under the mentorship of faculty  
researchers presented their research findings and  
attended local, regional and national scientific  
conferences including the annual meetings of the  
Alabama Academy of Sciences (AAS), the annual  
Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in  
STEM sponsored by the American Association for the  
Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National  
Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C., the  
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the  
annual National Society of Black Physics (NSBP), the  
National Women of Color STEM Conference, the  
BAYA Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) STEM  
conferences, and other local and regional conferences.  
As these conferences foster networking opportunities,  
career fair events organized for both graduate and  
43  
Kassu, 2020  
undergraduate students, the attendee considered  
opportunities. In their annual reports, the students  
confirmed that their internship and co-op  
applications were motivated by their participation in  
undergraduate research projects early on in their  
freshman and sophomore years, which ultimately  
shaped their search for summer internships and co-op  
programs, which later opened up opportunities for a  
full-time employment position. Based on the survey  
responses collected, the undergraduate paid-research  
and mentoring program implemented is successful in  
engaging the students and providing mentoring  
activities, which assisted the participating students in  
realizing their pursuit of academic and professional  
goals and success in the STEM career.  
In terms of encouraging students to pursue  
graduate education, about 58 percent and 55 percent  
of the respondents in 2018/19 and 2019/20,  
respectively, agree/strongly agree that being part of  
the project encouraged them to apply for graduate  
programs. Based on their response to the survey  
questionnaire distributed to the participants, the  
students’ decision to pursue graduate studies is  
influenced by their participation in undergraduate  
research. As compared with the effect of the program  
in research and internship, the results obtained  
indicate relatively lower on the students pursuing  
graduate studies. This can be explained in two ways.  
The first is some of the mentees were more interested  
in employment opportunities than pursuing graduate  
studies. Some of the students indicated that their  
projected plan is to secure a job first and enroll in  
graduate school as a part-time status. They were also  
expecting that the graduate-level tuition expenses  
could be covered by their employers.  
attending the conferences as valuable. Some of the  
conferences also served as venues for the students to  
build long-lasting networking opportunities with  
STEM carrier coaches and mentors for minority  
students.  
As part of the objectives of the scholarship, the  
participating students have been encouraged to  
secure paid summer internships and co-ops. In this  
regard, the faculty mentors assisted the mentees in  
connecting them with paid summer internship  
programs. Some of the agencies and programs the  
students participated in summer internship programs  
include the U.S. Department of Energy’s National  
Labs, Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships  
(SULI) program, the U.S. Department of Defense  
(DOE) labs, NASA, Northrop Grumman Corporation,  
Apple, and the NSF-REU programs at universities  
across the nation. Some of the summer interns were  
able to get a fulltime job offer from the federal  
government agencies and companies they interned  
with.  
As can be seen in Figure 2, more than 90 percent of  
the students agree/strongly agree that the  
scholarship and mentoring program provided them  
valuable research experiences. A similar response is  
obtained that the program increased the students’  
research interest in science and engineering. In both  
categories of the questionnaires, only 9 percent of the  
respondents neither agree nor disagree on the  
projects’ contribution to the research experience and  
interest in science and engineering discipline.  
Regarding the projects’ contribution to the summer  
internship opportunities secured by the mentee,  
again, more than 90 percent of the students in 2018/19  
agreed that being a recipient of the scholarship  
contributed to the summer internship they secured.  
In the 2019/20 academic year, about 73 percent of the  
scholarship recipients indicated that the mentorship  
program they participated in positively contributed to  
the summer internship they had in summer 2019. The  
remaining 27 percent of the survey respondents  
neither agree nor disagree. A similar response is  
obtained for the program’s contribution to the  
employment opportunities, except that about 8  
percent of the responses in 2019/20 disagree that the  
scholarship program contributed to any job  
About 100 percent of the respondents in 2018/19  
academic year agreed or strongly agreed that being  
part of the scholarship and research activities under a  
faculty mentor contributed to the awards, honors, or  
recognition they received from the institution or  
professional societies. This is mainly attributed to  
their strong research experience, publications, and  
presentations at local, regional, and national scientific  
conferences. The students also indicated that the  
monthly stipend and the tuition scholarships  
provided covered their Fall and Spring semesters  
living expenses, which provided financial relief,  
assisted them in focusing on their classes and other  
44  
J. Educ. Manage. Stud., 10(3): 40-47, 2020  
academic activities than spending their time on off-  
result agrees with earlier findings, which suggested  
that advising and engaging minority students in  
research activities resulted a positive outcome in  
campus employment, ultimately succeeding in their  
academic endeavor. This is consistent with the earlier  
work by Swail et al. (2003), which reported that, as  
compared with minority students taking student  
loans, those students receiving scholarships from  
grant projects were found to be more likely to succeed  
academically and earn their Bachelor’s degree.  
The survey responses suggest that the financial  
support and research participation of undergraduate  
students with faculty members could improve  
retention efforts, enhanced students’ credentials to  
secure employment, and encouraged them to consider  
graduate education in STEM fields. The scholarship  
program also provided unique research opportunities  
for undergraduate students to attend local, regional,  
and national professional conferences, present  
research findings, which resulted in co-authorship of  
refereed journal and conference proceedings. This  
improving  
undergraduate  
students  
learning  
experiences and one of the motivational factors for  
their persistence to earn their undergraduate diploma  
and pursue graduate education in STEM discipline  
Students participated in undergraduate research  
programs are also found to gain the required research  
culture and skills, as well as networking opportunities  
with their peers (McDevitt et al., 2020), which makes  
them better prepared for graduate school and  
facilitate their transition into graduate studies,  
enhance their performance at the graduate level and  
perform well in their research projects (McDevitt et  
Figure 2. Participants’ survey results in 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years.  
45  
 
Kassu, 2020  
semester seminar series, one student was terminated  
CONCLUSIONS  
from the scholarship and mentoring program.  
In summary, the paper presented the results of the  
faculty-mentored undergraduate STEM scholarship  
and research program supported by the Department  
of Homeland Security-Scientific Leadership Award  
(DHS-SLA). The program recruited qualified  
underrepresented minority STEM students from the  
College of Engineering, Technology and Physical  
Sciences, and awarded scholarships including  
monthly stipend and tuition for the fall and spring  
semesters up to four years. As part of the  
requirements of the project, all the selected students  
were assigned to the participating faculty mentors to  
work on research projects. The selected students  
were also required to present their research findings  
to their peers and faculties at the ‘End-of-Semester  
Workshop’ series initiated by the project, at the  
Annual STEM Day event, The Annual Conference of  
the Alabama Academy of Science, the Annual  
Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference,  
and other national and regional conferences. Based  
on the feedback received from the students, besides  
alleviating the financial constraints, the program  
provided them several opportunities to work on  
research projects, attend conferences, co-authorship  
of refereed articles and conference proceedings,  
enhanced their resume, facilitated summer internship  
and co-op opportunities, encouraged them to pursue  
graduate STEM education and STEM career. Some of  
the students mentored under this program received  
prestigious national awards and recognitions for their  
outstanding accomplishments in the undergraduate  
research category. The undergraduate faculty-  
mentored research program also served as a platform  
for facilitating direct interaction of the students with  
faculty mentors and other team members in the  
mentors’ laboratory and on-campus and off-campus  
collaborators and improved access to research  
laboratories. This effort increased the participating  
students’ research skills and contributed to the  
students’ pursuit of professional STEM careers in  
their major area. The program also increased their  
research skills and developed the next generation of  
underrepresented minority STEM professionals. Due  
to repeated lack of participation and attendance in the  
faculty-led research activities and the end-of-  
DECLARATIONS  
Acknowledgments  
This work is supported by the Department of  
Homeland Security-Scientific Leadership Award,  
under Grant Nos. DHS-SLA 2014-ST-062-00060-02,  
and the National Science Foundation (NSF), Award  
No.: 1643799.  
Competing interests  
The author declares no competing interests.  
Consent to publish  
Not applicable.  
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