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Robert Boykin of the University of South Carolina presents his research to classmates during a summer course in software engineering led by Dr. Junhua Ding. (Photos by Cliff Hollis.)

ASKING WHY

Grant-funded ECU course teaches research practices to undergraduates

August 7, 2013

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services


A group of 10 undergraduate students got an opportunity to conduct graduate-level research this summer through a grant-funded program based in software engineering at East Carolina University.

Intended to expand students’ critical thinking skills and prompt interest in graduate programs, “Software Testing: Foundations, Applications and Tools” accepted students from ECU and five other universities spread across three states. College of Technology and Computer Science professor Dr. Junhua Ding led the 10-week course.

“At my school, nobody does research unless you’re a grad student,” said Elijah Adams, a rising senior at UNC-Greensboro. He said that his work at ECU this summer went beyond the foundations and theory courses that have made up his college experience thus far.
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Dr. Junhua Ding


“It’s not just knowing to press a button to test (a software program), but asking why do I need to press that button and knowing what tools to use,” Ding explained.

Students spent much of the course working on a project of their choosing. Some were interested in cloud computing, others in data mining, security systems or mobile applications. But each was exposed – for the first time – to the research process: Selecting a topic, surveying existing works, presenting findings, writing reports, making revisions, conducting experiments and citing references.

It was the first “Research Experience for Undergraduates” project funded at ECU, according to Dr. Mary Farwell, director of undergraduate research. The National Science Foundation award totaled approximately $360,000 and the course will be offered again next summer.

“Undergraduate research is a crucial program as it allows students to engage in their subjects outside of a traditional classroom environment,” said Farwell. “It has been shown to promote retention in the sciences, retention at the university and it assists students in making career decisions.”

Participating students agreed that the course curriculum was outside the normal scope of their studies.

“In my major, I just sit in a classroom and take in information,” said N.C. Central University senior Yesenia Velasco. “This is a lot more applied. It takes you out of your safety box.”

“As soon as I understand a concept, then I create (a software test) for myself,” she added. “It’s like making your own math formulas. You usually don’t do that, you just use them.”

ECU senior Brandi Amstutz said the class was “much more personal” than other classes because of the small size. And she said it was easier to ask questions of the professors and graduate mentors.

Adams said it was also a boon for his self-confidence.

“If you introduce (research) to us now, now I’m not scared,” he explained. “I’m like, ‘I can go to grad school. Research? I can do this all day!’”

Other students in the class were Robert Boykin of the University of South Carolina, Rob Grimes of Georgia College at Milledgeville, Lewis Whitley of UNC-Pembroke and Andre Anglin, John Darrow, Ernest Holston and Asa Kamali, all of ECU.

The course ended July 26.

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Elijah Adams, a rising senior at UNC-Greensboro, became interested in attending graduate school during a summer course at ECU.




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