175 Developing and Implementing a Successful Undergraduate Research Experience: Lessons Learned from a REU program

Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Reginald Blake, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY; and J. Liou-Mark

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the New York City College of Technology significantly address the dire STEM crises among underrepresented minorities by promoting and providing rich, substantive, academic and life-transformative STEM educational experiences for students who would otherwise not pursue STEM education altogether or would not pursue STEM education through to the graduate school level. This program provides undergraduate students an opportunity to conduct intensive, collaborative satellite and ground-based remote sensing research with faculty mentors from within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center (NOAA-CREST) consortium. The main goals of the program are to provide research experiences in satellite and ground-based remote sensing and to use these research experiences as impetus to encourage a diverse student population to pursue STEM graduate degrees and careers.

STEM students are recruited from the City University of New York's 23 separate campuses. These students are engaged in a year-long research experience (nine weeks in the summer, three weeks in the fall, and three weeks in the spring). They become part of a community of research scholars who are actively engaged in state-of-the-art remote sensing applications. Since 90% of the participants are underrepresented minority students in STEM, the program is intentionally created an academic support system and a multi-tiered mentoring design specifically to address critical issues faced by this population. REU Scholars participate in a multi-tiered mentoring program consisting of faculty mentors, post doctorate/research scientists, graduate students, and high school students. Not only are the REU Scholars mentored by experts in the field, they are also expected to provide guidance to high school students. Academic support includes courses, conferences, exposure trips, research ethics workshops, graduate school support, and counseling. This REU program fortifies the students' STEM skills set by teaching them MATLAB programming, Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, and scientific writing and presentation through a series of workshops and mini-courses given by CREST Center faculty and graduate students. REU Scholars participate in research group meetings, seminars, oral and poster presentations at local, regional, and national conferences. Moreover, program participants are given continued geoscience exposure via educational trips to the American Museum of Natural History, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the National Weather Service, and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. They are trained in the fundamental issues surrounding research ethics. Graduate school support in form of workshops assisting in the graduate school application process, writing personal statements, and creating resumes is provided. And lastly, counselors are available to address any complex emotional and social issues students may have.

Since the inception of the REU program in 2008, a total of 45 undergraduate students have finished or are continuing with their research or are pursuing their STEM endeavors. All the REU Scholars conducted individual satellite and ground-based remote sensing research projects that ranged from the study of hurricanes to atmospheric water vapor distribution to spectral analysis of soil moisture. Of the 45 REU Scholars, 15.6% (7) are in graduate school in the STEM disciplines, 20.0% (9) have graduated and are in the STEM workforce, and 64.4% (29) continue to pursue their STEM degrees. All of the students have made oral and poster presentations at local, region, and/or national conferences. Three of them have won first place recognition for their research, and two students will be co-authors for two peer-review publications and one book chapter. Additionally, survey results show that 84% of the student participants now indicate interest in pursuing Master's degrees in STEM and 75% indicate interest in pursuing doctoral degrees in STEM. (This program is supported by NSF REU grant #1062934.)

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