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SPIRE-EIT Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Brandi Geisinger is the lead evaluator of the NSF Summer Program for Interdisciplinary Research and Education – Emerging Interface Technologies (SPIRE-EIT) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The SPIRE-EIT REU is a ten-week research program that combines classroom training with hands-on research projects. Iowa State University’s Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) and Human Computer Interaction (HCI) program are the hosts for this program. The SPIRE-EIT undergrads form research teams, each led by a VRAC/HCI faculty member and assigned a graduate student mentor. Over the course of the summer, SPIRE-EIT undergrads create new technological solutions to challenges in human computer interaction and present their results at a year-end symposium. During their stay, students tour local attractions and participate in a variety of team building and social activities meant to give them a better understanding of life in Iowa.

Annual evaluation of the REU program includes pre- and post-program surveys and focus groups. The evaluation of the program has been informed by other studies of REU students and outcomes, as well as best practices for evaluation (Bauer & Bennett 2003; Brew 2003; Cobb 1994; Eagan et al. 2011; Gonzalez-Espada & LaDue 2006; Haen et al. 2012; Handelsman et al. 2005; Hathaway et al. 2002; Lopatto 2004; Lopatto 2007; Pascarella & Terenzini 2005; Russell 2004; Russell et al. 2007; Sadler et al. 2010; Seymour et al. 2004; Zydney et al. 2002). Impacts of the evaluation include gaining an understanding of the value of the SPIRE-EIT REU program in preparing undergraduate students to attend graduate school in related fields, and supporting and encouraging data collection activities that demonstrate the impact of the program and provide guidance for program improvement.