Preparing Better Engineers: Compulsory Undergraduate Research Projects that Benefit Universities and the Profession
Engineers are responsible for creative, innovative and adaptive designs that solve challenging technical problems and provide sustainable solutions. Professional skills (i.e. management, social/cultural appreciation, budgeting, communication and personal development) are recognised by the profession as an integral part of an engineer’s formal education. However, most engineering programmes do not specifically teach these skill sets. We recognised the need to better prepare students for real-world engineering practice that demands innovation and professional skills as well as technical competence. We therefore developed a successful model in which engineering students integrated technical information and professional skills through a real-world research project established in partnership with industry. Material taught throughout a four-year curriculum culminated in the compulsory (equivalent to ~8 credit hours) assessed research project that acts as a pathway towards real-world and sustainable engineering practice. A uniqueness of our model included indigenous people’s cultural engagement, where students were taught the importance of understanding and working with indigenous peoples for successful engineering outcomes. The final year student research project benefited the university, students, industry, and the engineering profession at different levels through financial and other gains. The University and its students acquired industry funding, sponsorship, scholarships, graduate employment and research partnerships. Industry and the profession profited from better prepared engineering students, early recruitment opportunities, company marketing and cost-effective taxdeductible research partnerships. To successfully implement compulsory undergraduate research projects, support from colleagues and the profession is necessary. While financial and personnel resources are limited in times of economic uncertainty, we have mitigated these limitations by partnering with external mentors.