REU: Engineering Education Research

Creating knowledge to improve the education of engineers

(Some projects awaiting funding)

For information contact

Grace Panther

Funding Source

NSF EEC 2105156

See Projects

Summer undergraduate engineering education researcher Dorian Bobbett (left) shares her research poster with an interested graduate student during the Summer Research Symposium in August of 2022.
Summer undergraduate engineering education researcher Dorian Bobbett (left) shares her research poster with an interested graduate student during the Summer Research Symposium in August of 2022.

Who should apply

Related fields

  • Education
  • Engineering - all areas


Participation in the Nebraska Summer Research Program is limited to students who meet the following criteria:
  • U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Current undergraduate with at least one semester of coursework remaining before obtaining a bachelor's degree

See Eligibility for more information.

How to apply

Follow the application steps to submit the following materials.

About the Program

Students often confuse the practice of teaching, scholarly teaching, scholarship of teaching and learning, and education research, often associating engineering education research with improving individual teachers’ practices and assessment and failing to recognize its greater potential contributions to advancing all aspects of engineering education.

This REU program provides opportunities to introduce students to the significance and rigor of the field of engineering education research. The program will allow students to fully participate in engineering education research topics that span a range of disciplines and contexts and provide a pathway into graduate level engineering education research.

Summer undergraduate engineering education researchers Emily Stratman (left) and Kayla Ney (center) alongside mentor Dr. Diefes-Dux (right) receive 2nd place in best paper award in the first-year programs division at the National Engineering Education Conference in 2022.
Summer undergraduate engineering education researchers Emily Stratman (left) and Kayla Ney (center) alongside mentor Dr. Diefes-Dux (right) receive 2nd place in best paper award in the first-year programs division at the National Engineering Education Conference in 2022.


  • Competitive stipend: $6,000
  • Suite-style room and meal plan
  • Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
  • Campus parking and/or bus pass
  • Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
  • Wireless internet access

Learn more about academic and financial benefits.


  • Department seminars and presentations
  • Professional development workshops (e.g., applying to graduate school, taking the GRE)
  • Welcome picnic
  • Day trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Research symposium

Mentors and Projects

Dr. Heidi Diefes-Dux, Dr. Grace Panther Biological Systems Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Evidencing Epidemic Change in Engineering Education

The use of a wide array of teaching practices and strategies (WATPS) in higher STEM education has been shown to improve students’ conceptual understanding, appeal to a diverse set of students, and increase persistence in engineering, especially among underrepresented groups (Freeman et al., 2014; Kuh et al., 2006; President's Council, 2012; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many engineering instructors continued to use traditional teaching methods, hindering the formation of engineers. When universities switched to emergency remote teaching (Hodges et al., 2020), instructors experienced crisis-induced motivation to adopt teaching practices/strategies they had not used before. The overarching research question is: To what extent did instructors sustain, enhance, or extend their use of these practices and strategies?

Dr. Jessica Deters Mechanical Engineering

Investigating Pandemic-Induced Changes to Engineering Education through the Lens of Engineering Culture

Increasing diversity in engineering has been a major focus in the U.S. for decades, and while significant resources have been invested in improving diversity in engineering, the numbers have remained relatively stagnant. To move forward, research on engineering culture suggests that we must look inside the engineering classroom to understand why engineering remains largely white and largely male (Cech & Sherick, 2019; Lichtenstein et al., 2015). Most of what is known to date about engineering culture was captured during periods of stability. The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to higher education, exacerbating challenges around diversity and inclusion in engineering (Addo, 2020; Coley & Holly, 2021; Sealey et al., 2021; Sheppard, 2020) and providing an opportunity to either challenge or uphold the dimensions of engineering culture.

Dr. Jessica Deters and Dr. Mun Yuk Chin Mechanical Engineering, Educational Psychology

Exploring the Intersection of Mental Health, Equity, and Retention in Engineering Education

Improving undergraduate student retention in engineering has been a longstanding concern in engineering programs across the U.S. Systemic barriers within educational environments (e.g., inequitable opportunities) can worsen these outcomes for minoritized students (e.g., students of color, first-generation students) given their increased experiences of discrimination, which are linked with worse mental health. However, minoritized students also possess sources of cultural wealth (e.g., familial and aspirational wealth) which influence how they navigate these educational environments. More research is needed to clarify the links between these aspects of students’ experiences in order to strengthen student retention in engineering education. The overarching research question is: How are engineering students’ discriminatory experiences related to their mental health outcomes? 

Dr. Heidi Diefes-Dux Biological Systems Engineering

Analyzing Assessments for Virtual/Augmented-Reality-Based Discipline Exploration Rotations (VADERs)

The path to proficiency in engineering is long and difficult, often lacking displays of what it would be like to be an engineer and the positive societal impacts of engineering, weakening students’ interest (engagement) and confidence (self-efficacy) and perpetuating issues of retention and capacity building (National Academies, 2016). Virtual/Augmented-Reality-Based Discipline Exploration Rotations (VADERs) provide students with a platform to explore Architectural Engineering and its subdisciplines through virtual, mock-up healthcare spaces and interactions. VADERs are open-ended, human-computer interactions informed by the Model of Domain Learning (MDL, Kulilowich & Hepler, 2018) framework to help students visualize themselves in their chosen careers and enhance resiliency against the challenges of an engineering degree program. VADERs are embedded into courses through assignments to allow students to better link concepts learned in the classroom to realistic work examples.

Dr. Heidi Diefes-Dux, Dr. Grace Panther, & Dr. Logan Perry Biological Systems Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Metacognitive Strategies Expressed in Engineering Student Reflections

Engineers are increasingly being given decision-making power in the organizations in which they work. The idea being that organizations can be more flexible, faster to respond, and more effective if organizational hierarchy is reduced. For undergraduate engineering students to work effectively in an environment focused on complex problem solving, they must be self-directed learners – they must engage in “diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes”. One way to build students’ capacity to learn is through self-reflection.

Dr. Grace Panther Civil and Environmental Engineering

Spatial Visualization Skills and Engineering Problem Solving

Spatial skills have been linked to success in STEM degree attainment (Wai, et al., 2009). Spatial skills have also shown some correlation to successful problem solving (Duffy et al., 2020). This study investigates the links between spatial skills and problem solving by using several spatial measures and engineering problems while collecting eye tracking data and perceived stress (wrist band data). Two research questions guide the project: (1) Do demographic differences exist between students in terms of their spatial skills and engineering problem solving? (2) Do stress levels and eye movements differ between demographic groups when solving engineering problems?

Dr. Logan Perry Civil and Environmental Engineering

Transfer of Engineering Learning Between Capstone and Work

At the core of education is a need for students to transfer their learning beyond the classroom (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999). This is particularly true for the transition between school and work, a period where recent graduates are expected to apply their educational knowledge to real-world engineering problems. In engineering programs, capstone courses are typically designed to bridge this gap, providing a chance to engage in open-ended projects that ask students to apply previously-attained knowledge and simulate real-world work experiences (Pembridge & Paretti, 2010). Few studies have thoroughly examined the transition between capstone and work, and even fewer have asked what knowledge, skills, and attributes are transferring between the two.

Dr. Logan Perry Civil and Environmental Engineering

Immersive Reality to Improve Hazard Recognition on Construction Sites

The U.S. construction industry experienced thousands of fatalities and hundreds of thousands of non-fatal injuries in the past five years (USDOL, 2021). These staggering numbers draw attention to the critical need for a better understanding of safety and safety recognition on construction worksites.  Prior researchers have aimed to reduce death and fatalities by using VR platforms for safety training (Le et al., 2015; Schwebel, 2016). While VR can support learners in identifying certain construction safety violations and hazards (Sacks et al., 2013), this does not automatically translate to safer practices. Workers often know safety regulations, but do not follow them because of perceived convenience or time-savings. When they eventually witness or sustain an injury, the experience creates a deep and long-lasting lesson learned (Hallowell, 2010). Therefore, unlike prior VR studies that focused only on hazard recognition, this work examines the emotional responses during experiential learning.

Dr. Logan Perry & Dr. Jessica Deters Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering

Preparedness of Mid-Career Engineers

A core component of ABET’s student outcomes is the ability for engineering students to be lifelong learners, or learners that can continually acquire and apply new knowledge beyond their time in a formal education setting (ABET, 2022). Lifelong learning is critical for the workplace, where engineering graduates must continue their learning journey in a real-world environment (Martinez-Mediano & Lord, 2012). Moreover, as engineering graduates progress through their careers, many make the transition from technical engineering roles to management roles; a transition that requires a different set of skills. But how prepared are students for this lifelong learning throughout the trajectory of their careers? While current research tends to focus on preparedness in terms of employability immediately after graduation (Ford et al., 2019; Winberg et al., 2020), few studies evaluate preparedness on a long-term scale. As such, this study will focus on perceptions of preparedness of early- to mid-career engineers with the following foci: (1) the challenges they face when transitioning from technical to management-focused roles, (2) the gaps they perceive in their readiness for management roles, and (3) how demographic factors like gender and race impact their experience transitioning into management positions.