College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

CCEE Provides Hands-On Undergraduate Research Opportunities

For many students, it can be difficult to gain real-world research experience while attending classes at the same time. Because it can be hard to balance learning and research, Director of Graduate Education (DOGE) and professor Omar Smadi in the Iowa State University Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) started a new, hands-on undergraduate research program in the department. This will be the second year of the program, after a year of many positive experiences from students.

When Smadi started the program back in 2020, he had one main goal in mind: providing students the opportunity to stand out after graduation with unique research experience. Working with assistant professors Katie Madson and Beena Ajmera, this program is projected to eventually allow students to solve an issue funded by an industry partner – so students are working on solving a real-world problem and offer a class where students can learn about professionalism in the workplace.

As of now, students can conduct research in the department through this program and become more comfortable with the research realm, learning what is a good fit for them and if they want to do research in the future. Knowing what works for the students can potentially give them a more knowledgeable approach to their future careers, and give them a taste of what graduate school research could look like if they were interested, Smadi said.

Photo of student Han Liu (left) and Vincent Tan (right) conducting research in the lab

“Back in 2020, I started wondering: how could we have a program for our undergraduate students to become more involved in research?” Smadi said. “We want students to have a meaningful research experience when they are working in the lab, more than cleaning equipment or giving an extra hand.”

Smadi successfully launched the program last year with support from the department and College of Engineering after many of CCEE’s faculty were on board. Now, the program allows students to apply for a $15/hour research position working closely with a CCEE faculty member.

The amount of students applying to the program is steadily increasing. When it first started, 13 students applied. This spring, 18 students have been accepted into the program.

“In the future, we are trying to provide a research experience with two components – one will be hands-on research working on a real-world problem funded by industry, and the second will be a class where we teach them research skills and professional development activities,” Smadi said. “I think there is a lot of value to this program, and students will be learning things they wouldn’t learn without this program.”

To apply to this program, you must be a student with at least one semester at ISU, a minimum 3.0 GPA and an interest in research. Applications for the fall 2022 semester will begin rolling out in Spring of 2022.