Research Experiences for Undergraduates: "Our Future Depends On It"
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and
NSF Director Arden Bement Jr.
Science educators from around the nation exchanged ideas at a workshop in Washington, D.C., on how best to engage undergraduates in hands-on scientific research. The gathering, co-sponsored by AAAS and the National Science Foundation (NSF), celebrated the value of such undergraduate research experiences in attracting students to the sciences and preparing them for graduate studies.
During a Capitol Hill reception and poster session prior to the workshop, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Committee on Science, praised the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program as a wise investment that helps keep the United States competitive in science and technology. "Keep up the great work," Boehlert told the educators. "Our future depends on it."
The REU program, funded by the National Science Foundation, supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the Foundation. Several hundred schools involve students in summer research projects that typically last about 10 weeks. Some students also work with faculty during the school year on research projects funded by NSF.
At the 20 September reception, NSF Director Arden Bement Jr. said the REU program is important in showing students that scientific research can be fun and self-fulfilling. The program helps to demystify what the students read about in textbooks, he said, and introduces them to current and exciting research. "It is absolutely important," Bement said, in helping retain student interest in science during the undergraduate years and entice some who might not otherwise consider science as a career.
Representatives from more than 60 REU programs attended the best-practices workshop from 20-22 September at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va. Randy Duran, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Florida and organizer of the event, said there is intense competition to participate in the undergraduate research program at his institution. There were 250 applicants for 10 slots in the summer program, he said.
Nationally, there is a broad distribution of programs, Duran said, with some aimed exclusively at women and others targeted at groups under-represented in the sciences and engineering. The programs give students a leg up, said Shirley Malcom, AAAS head of Education and Human Resources. The REU program, she said, "is a major factor in career development, especially for students from under-represented groups."
Some of the programs have been very effective. Of the more than 170 students who have participated in the undergraduate chemistry and biochemistry research program at California State University in Los Angeles, 98 per cent have obtained their B.S. degrees and 53.3 per cent have entered graduate programs in chemistry, according to Scott Nickolaisen, a professor of chemistry who directs the program.
Mary Boyd, professor of chemistry at Georgia Southern University and co-organizer of the workshop, said the intent of the gathering was to help educators "learn from all of the other different types of REU sites and the different disciplines." Educators can exchange tips for recruiting students into their research programs, including the need to work closely with other faculty members in identifying promising candidates among under-represented groups, Boyd said. "You can't just send out mailings," she said. "You can't just put it up on the Internet. You have to form partnerships and collaborations."
In addition to Boehlert, other members of Congress who attended the reception were: Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.); Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.); Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.); Rep. Martin Sabo (R-Minn.); Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).
28 September 2005