The Importance of Undergraduate Mentoring and Researching

“Engineering is a group activity,” says Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Cindy Furse, who has been awarded the 2024 John G. Francis Undergraduate Mentoring Prize for her dedicated work mentoring undergraduate students in her research labs. “If you work in a company, you may work with tens or hundreds of engineers at a time, so having a research group that includes people from different levels and departments—a huge diversity of thought—is how engineering works best.” Involving undergraduates helps increase this diversity of thought, which makes a research group “more creative and better engineers overall.”

Furse’s Work with Undergraduate Students

Cindy Furse and Magdy Iskander.

Furse’s first introduction to the world of research was as a student, where she was the one being mentored by University of Utah faculty Magdy Iskander. After furthering her love of the subject through research as a student, Furse went on to teach at Utah State University in 1997, returning to the U in 2002, and has been a faculty member ever since. Following in her own mentor’s footsteps, Furse has mentored undergraduate researchers since her first year teaching.

Furse’s Smith Chart quilt.

Over the decades, Furse has mentored over 200 undergraduate and 75 graduate students. Students who complete a research project with her sign her Smith Chart quilt, creating a beautiful visual record of the impact Furse has had on the students of the U. Over the last year, 16 undergraduate researchers have worked in Furse’s lab.

According to Furse, doing research with and mentoring undergraduates is “mutually beneficial.” It allows professors to explore new research ideas, while allowing students the opportunity to gain research experience and to learn from mentors of all levels—professors, graduate students, and even other undergraduate students. Right now, Furse’s student researchers are involved in a variety of projects, including developing a spread spectrum detection for breast cancer.

In the ECE Department, facilitating undergraduate research is “the norm, not the exception,” according to Furse. “Many ECE faculty have been just as involved as I am and … are committed to involving undergraduate [researchers] in their labs.”

Furse with students.

Research as a Community

Nobody does research alone. All scientific advancement and discovery is built upon the work of those who came before us. And, in the engineering world, the vast majority of research is done as part of a team.

As Furse builds her own research and mentoring community of undergraduate and graduate students at the U, she looks to the larger communities that have supported her and her students. She thanks her first mentor, Magdy Iskander, for bringing her into the world of research; the Undergraduate Research Office at the U, which has been “instrumental in supporting [her] undergraduate researchers”; and the IEEE Antennas and Propagation community, which has “continually welcomed young researchers” and provided student programs. Most of all, though, Furse thanks the many students she’s been privileged to work with over the years who have “worked their hearts out” as they have researched together, as a community.

Furse with students.

Learn more about Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty research topics and discover ways to get involved in undergraduate research.

Written by Marlee Jeppsen.