As efforts to broaden computing have become more diverse, inclusive, and just, despite increasing enrollments in computer science, the percentages of historically excluded students have not changed much and many institutions are struggling to retain them. Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) are designed to introduce undergraduate students to research and present active training opportunities that may lead to students pursuing advanced academic degrees. Students are exposed early in their academic careers to research as problem solving, and therefore can develop critical thinking skills independently of coding skills. REUs provide an alternative source of funding while engaging with faculty and mentors who can nurture their interests and provide encouragement to persist in their degree program, often prior to declaring a major. In addition to providing early research engagement opportunities for first year and second year students with insufficient experience to compete for cooperative and summer internships, applying to and participating in REUs provide experience navigating application requirements (including writing a personal statement and gaining strong letters of recommendation, which helps them get to know faculty and vice-versa), collaborating on a project, and building a set of skills that would make them an attractive graduate school applicants. REUs are especially beneficial for first-generation, community college, and non-traditional students who may have limited exposure and access to graduate school, the application process, and hands-on opportunities to explore the field more deeply.
We share some key insights that have been gleaned from evaluation reports of mentors and participants in the CRA Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP)’s Collaborative Research Experiences for Undergraduates (CREU) and Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU) programs and our own firsthand experiences working with and mentoring undergraduate students.