Summer Research Programs in the College of Sciences Inspire the Scientists in Undergraduates
Students taking part in summer undergraduate research programs at Tech get an early taste of the work expected of them if they pursue graduate studies.
Georgia Tech's summer undergraduate research programs give students a taste of higher level research.
Emma Stowell has enjoyed her time at Monmouth University, in central New Jersey. But the small private school has only one ultracentrifuge in its labs, a situation that can occasionally send the senior chemistry major into a tailspin.
“I didn’t even know how to work it,” she says. “But this summer, I’ve learned how to work multiple kinds of centrifuges.”
That’s because Stowell spent her summer at Georgia Tech with the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program. When Stowell presented her poster on July 26 – about peptide extensions on virus-like particles – she joined 49 other students from Georgia and around the country taking part in undergraduate research programs in the School of Physics and the School of Biological Sciences, in addition to the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
“This summer experience has been awesome,” Stowell says. “Being able to work in such a large science university is amazing. I got to use equipment I had never even heard of before.”
The summer undergraduate research programs expose students to the kind of academic work they’ll be doing if they pursue graduate studies. The students receive a $5,000 stipend for 10 weeks of work on high-level research projects. Graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professors serve as mentors
This was also the second year for the College of Sciences to offer the BEE-Inspired Summer Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nine students worked on research relating to pollinators, ecosystems, or sustainability. Jennifer Leavey, integrated science curriculum coordinator for the College of Sciences and director of the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project, says BEE-Inspired participants also spend one day a week on community service projects.
“Sometimes we go to community gardens and urban farms, or work on sustainability projects, such as planting a pollinator garden,” Leavey says. “We work with summer enrichment camps for school children, teaching them about the role of pollinators and ecosystems and doing STEM outreach.”
Community partners for 2017 included Atlanta Food and Farm PBC, Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, West End Community Garden and Urban Nursery, Greening Youth Foundation, Aluma Farm, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Zoo Atlanta, City of Atlanta Bee City USA, Georgia Tech CEISMC - GE Girls and G.I.R.L.S. camps, and Fulton County Cub Scouts.
The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer program in the School of Physics is funded by the National Science Foundation. It is hosted by Georgia Tech, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark University Atlanta.
“I learned that research in graduate school is a major life commitment,” says Heritier-Robbins, an environmental engineering major. “I also gained an understanding of the high level of perseverance required to conduct research.”
Helping students learn how challenging research can be is another outcome of the summer programs, says Brian Hammer, professor in the School of Biological Sciences. “It was a steep learning curve for some, and they learned a lot about the process of science. For some of them, it was not what they expected.”
The work didn’t scare Stowell, who says she will now study for the Graduate Records Examination. “Doing research this summer has really solidified the idea that I want to go to graduate school,” she says. “I’m definitely going to apply to Georgia Tech. Everyone here has been so kind and open to answering all my questions.”