students with their projects
Students displaying their VIP projects for fall semester

Students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences showed off their opportunities for hands-on learning by displaying their Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) for the fall semester.

The VIP program teams up undergraduates with graduate students and faculty on long-term research projects. The program has expanded from three teams consisting of 70 students in spring 2015 to 14 teams with more than 200 undergraduate students.

“Participating in a VIP team allows students to apply their knowledge to a project, and learn about subjects relevant to the project in depth,” said VIP Program Director Aaron Ohta. “They also learn to participate in multidisciplinary teams, including taking on leadership roles.”

students smiling with project
Sasha Yamada, second from right, with team displaying their liquid-metal electronics project.

“I think the VIP program gives underclassmen a chance to participate in research at a much higher level than they would at any other graduate research program,” engineering student Sasha Yamada said. “As a freshman, I was able to join a research team, and now I’m a senior, and I have a lot more experience that I would have at any other situation.”

Each VIP team is run in a manner similar to teams that are formed for projects in companies. The experience is significant for workforce development.

“Many companies are recognizing this; many of our VIP teams have corporate sponsors that work closely with the students, and recruit the VIP students directly,” Ohta said. “The format of the VIP team (less experienced students working with more experienced and more senior students) creates a group of students with a range of backgrounds and experiences. This helps newer students in ways outside of the VIP project itself, as it is a good way to form peer mentorship relationships.”

The aim to expose undergraduate students to more research is making an impact on those involved.

“This is more hands-on than going to class. You can learn a bunch of formulas, but if you don’t know how to apply it, then it doesn’t matter,” engineering student Terry Pham said. “It’s giving me practical knowledge on how it works. You’re making stuff that has practical, real-life applications to it.”

College of Engineering leaders hope the program will translate into students reaching a deeper level of understanding the curriculum with these long-term projects and more job opportunities.