New program encourages faculty, student research collaborations at NMSU

WRITER: tfrank
CONTACT: Jim Kroger, 575-646-2243, jkroger
CONTACT: Abdessattar Abdelkefi, 575-646-6546, abdu

Giving New Mexico State University undergraduate students an opportunity to collaborate with faculty on research projects was the inspiration for the newly created Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. In its first year, the program established 16 collaborations during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The URAP collaborations allow students to learn how to conduct research, develop close relationships with faculty members, receive guidance and advice and materials such as recommendations.

“I created the program so across all departments there would be a way for students and faculty to get together and do research,” said Jim Kroger, psychology associate professor and URAP founder.

Abdessattar Abdelkefi, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has established a robust research group that includes 20 graduate students. He submitted research project ideas to the URAP website, and he has seven of the current collaborations.

“What has surprised me in the URAP program’s first year is the high motivation and dedication of the engineering students to the research projects,” Abdelkefi said. “In fact, based on my experience with the URAP undergraduate students, they showed high motivation and performance to design, manufacture and test various types of flapping and fixed wing drones for marine and space exploration applications.”

Abdelkefi worked with seven undergraduate engineering students through URAP: Devyn Rice, Daniel Furth, Seth Howe, Manuel Serrano, Dustin Holta, Anthony Pellegrino and Daniela Rodriguez. Rice and Furth, who graduated in May with mechanical engineering bachelor’s degrees, will pursue master’s degrees in the fall at NMSU as members of Abdelkefi’s research group.

After joining URAP in spring 2018 and working on a space exploration drone project, Rice said working with URAP gave him an advantage in his graduate studies.

“When I start my master’s, I’ll have a plan of action,” he said. “I won’t have to spend an entire semester trying to plan and figuring out how to write research papers and how to perform research.”

Furth agreed. “There’s a big learning curve when it comes to research. There’s a lot of things you have to pick up before you get going, how to research, how to write a paper, learn the stuff you need to learn.”

“The biggest challenge for engineering students is how to organize their time between courses, research and their daily life,” Abdelkefi said. “I tried to propose innovative ideas that can be related to the job markets and hence senior undergraduate students can have a good experience before getting a job or pursing their graduate studies. The undergraduate research period helps senior undergraduate students to improve their technical background, enhance their CVs and get internships.”

Abdelkefi said he hopes collaborations such as URAP with undergraduate students will encourage them to pursue graduate degrees at NMSU.

“We are looking for the highest quality students,” he said. “We are trying to attract high-quality students to stay here and work with us.”

A spring aerospace engineering bachelor’s degree graduate, Serrano said URAP was his introduction to research.

“I’m very thankful for the program. It’s what got me into the research world. This program helped me get my training wheels,” he said. “Networking is a big, big part and something I was lacking in and something I’m working on right now. With URAP I was able to develop relationships with colleagues and Dr. Abdelkefi.”

Serrano will continue his master’s degree studies in mechanical engineering at NMSU in the fall.

As URAP enters its second year, Kroger said recruiting additional faculty and students and preparing to offer the program for course credit in the third year will be the next focus.

“This will be a two-semester collaboration in the future and university courses are being created for the first and for the second semesters, allowing students to earn three credits toward their degrees as well as a grade each semester,” Kroger said.

To learn more about URAP visit https://urap.nmsu.edu/

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