Five years ago, Himanshu Jain and Wojciech Misiolek came up with a simple idea for changing Lehigh’s research culture. Undergraduate students who want to do research, they proposed, should find out firsthand how to present their work to professionals in the field.
Jain and Misiolek, professors of materials science and engineering, organized Lehigh’s first Engineering Undergraduate Research Symposium in 2005.
Twelve students competed at the symposium. Each prepared a poster and gave a 10-minute slide presentation to a panel of experts from academe and from companies such as Agere and Rohm & Haas.
The annual event is now called the David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium, thanks to an endowment from Andrew D. Freed ‘83 in honor of his parents. Freed is a member of the engineering college’s advisory board.
“We felt it was important to encourage more active participation by undergraduate students in the world of research,” says Misiolek, “and to give them the opportunity to present and defend their work just as researchers and industry practitioners do.”
“Lehigh’s students are very good in the classroom,” says Jain. “We wanted to help them deal with open-ended problems that are not in textbooks. We also wanted to raise the visibility of research on campus.”
Students are nominated by their departments to compete in the symposium. They work with faculty advisers and learn to design an experiment, use lab equipment and solve problems that arise during the projects. Misiolek and Jain coach the students on presentation skills.
The presentations are judged by a panel of academic and industry researchers for creativity, significance to an engineering problem, visual quality of the poster, and ability of the student to defend the research. The top three students win travel stipends to attend professional conferences.