Award-winning paper shows benefit of early experiential learning

Illustration of combined points representing a network

An award-winning research paper on experiential learning authored by teaching professor Matthew Morrison and undergraduates John Dimpel (CSE ’20) and Emory Smith (CSE ’21) demonstrates the benefit of introducing industry projects into computer science and engineering coursework early in the undergraduate curricula.

Their paper, “The Preternship — An Academic-Industry Partnership Model for Experiential Learning Experiences in Computer Science Curricula,” won the H. Robert Schroeder Best Paper Award at the IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference. The IEEE is the world’s major technical professional organization.

In the paper, Morrison, Dimpel, and Smith suggest that a “preternship” not only helps prepare students for positions in computer science and engineering fields, but also in others that require an understanding of a system, the ability to compare and judge alternate outcomes, and the capacity to process a range of technical and practical criteria. A preternship helps students apply curriculum fundamentals to real-world problems early in their undergraduate careers, Morrison said.

“Our research indicates that students respond better and learn more effectively through real-world experiential opportunities,” said Morrison. “They begin to master the technical aspects of a field, and, when working in groups on real-world projects, they gain communication, teamwork, and critical thinking skills.”

The study involved a total of 50 students who worked with a wide range of companies, including AT&T, Cadence Design Systems, Cisco, Collins Aerospace, Evergreen Coast Capital, GE Current, GE Healthcare, General Motors, Gildepath, Google, IBM, Intel, Keystone Resorts, Lenovo, Micron Technologies, MITRE, Naval Nuclear Laboratories, ORRO, Panasonic Automotive, ProstheTech, Rapid7, Raytheon, RCM-X, ShotTracker, Timbredio, Torigen, and WabTech. Seven of the students received offers or were hired by participating companies.

The department will offer preternships to undergraduates in the Data Structures course during spring and fall semesters as it continues to build an infrastructure through which students can develop independent projects with industry mentors and expand opportunities for students to succeed after they graduate.

The Schroeder Award would have been presented at the conference at Princeton University, but this year it was delivered by mail. The award includes a $300 monetary award, which the undergraduates on the research team elected to donate to the South Bend Group Violence Intervention Group, said Morrison, who made the donation on their behalf. Thanks to community matching funds, “Emory and John’s compassion will now become a $900 investment in our community,” Morrison said.

— Nina Welding, College of Engineering