This summer, NDSU has welcomed undergraduate students from a broad cross-section of the country to conduct research with faculty in their labs and the field. The students are participants in various undergraduate research experiences conducted annually across NDSU.
The NDSU Research and Creative Activity Office (RCA) has implemented its first summer undergraduate research program. Funded by the NIH IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), the program is composed of 28 research opportunities across various disciplines including animal science; biological sciences; chemistry and biochemistry; civil, construction and environmental engineering; computer science, electrical engineering, industrial and manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, microbiological sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, and soil science.
Most of the 43 participants are not students at NDSU. As such, the program is often their first experience at the university. “My favorite aspect of the program is working with such a diverse group of students from across the United States and so many different majors,” said Ying Huang. Huang, a civil and environmental engineering associate professor at NDSU, serves as the RCA undergraduate research faculty fellow and is leading the RCA program in coordination with the RCA Research Development team. “It is a great experience to be able to work with such an intelligent group of students and brilliant faculty mentors,” she adds.
In addition to the research each student conducts weekly, the RCA program features a schedule of workshops, seminars and trainings covering topics such as library use, mental and emotional health, science communication, technical writing, and applying to graduate school. Attendees have an opportunity to learn about NDSU facilities as well including the NDSU Core Labs and Electron Microscopy Center. At the end of the program, each participant will receive recognition for their work and will participate in a poster session to discuss their research findings.
“As a faculty fellow, my role has been to coordinate the RCA program,” Huang commented. “This included recruiting projects and faculty mentors, facilitating student applications and selections, communicating with the students and faculty mentors, assisting with paperwork for the students, and organizing the workshops and trainings for the students.” Huang is also the main contact for the students. “Whenever they need me for anything, I’m there to answer their questions and help them get issues figured out.” On top of her work coordinating the program, she also mentors students in two research projects.
As undergraduate research experiences historically have had a strong impact on a student’s choice of institution in their graduate studies, Huang hopes returning researchers each summer will become future NDSU graduate students. “My hope is that this program will run for a few years. Moving ahead, we will integrate the lessons from this year and improve the experiences for the students and faculty mentors.”
Huang and the RCA Research Development team partnered to create the program from the ground up. However, the team knew it was important to rely on resources and knowledge among NDSU faculty who were already well-versed in running summer undergraduate research programs. An example of such a program is the "Growing up STEM" Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program developed by NDSU professors Jennifer Momsen and Warren Christensen.
REUs tend to be specialized in a particular STEM discipline and are organized as competitive programs for students. They typically have an over-arching theme. Students must apply and provide references and information about their research interests, and then organizers and faculty invite applicants to participate. Most participating faculty have one to three positions for their REUs and typically two to three times more students apply for each. Students who are accepted spend up to 10 weeks in a program and are provided stipends and housing at NDSU.
A new NSF REU site being held at NDSU this summer is the Green Chemistry program. Run by distinguished professor Mukund Sibi and assistant professor Alexey Leontyev from chemistry and biochemistry, the interdisciplinary summer research program is a partnership between the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and coatings and polymeric materials at NDSU.
Ten undergraduate students were selected for the inaugural class from more than 60 applicants across the country. While the students were selected based on a wide range of criteria, Sibi and Leontyev gave special consideration to students from institutions that were not accredited by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“Inclusion in science is so important today,” Sibi commented. “One goal of our program is to bring students from underrepresented groups who have an interest in science but currently have only limited opportunities for research. Long term, we hope to help them become successful graduate students and scientists.”
Much like the RCA summer program, Green Chemistry students meet twice each week to work on general skills in such areas as patenting, data management, and applying to graduate school. In addition, Sibi and Leontyev coordinate scientific presentations from faculty mentors for all students. Sibi points out that these serve to show the students practical presentation skills while exposing them to the additional research occurring at NDSU.
While this is the first year of the program, the NSF grant (award number 2050802) supports an additional two years and Sibi expects to have even more students in subsequent years.“REUs are such an exciting opportunity for students,” he commented.
“NSF supports them at more than 100 sites across the country and they are among the best programs I’ve personally been involved with as a faculty member and researcher.”
The Insect Cryobiology and Ecophysiology (ICE) Network
Biological Sciences provides opportunities for students to take part in The Insect Cryobiology and Ecophysiology (ICE) Network. ICE brings together faculty in genomics, gene regulation, physiology, and ecological modeling with scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Services in North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico. The goal of the ICE Network is to understand how bees overcome harsh winter conditions to successfully emerge and reproduce in spring and long-term, the researchers hope to understand the genetic and physiological regulation of the overwintering phenotype in solitary and social bees.
This summer, three NDSU students and five from other universities are researching the alfalfa leafcutting bee. Their topics include temperature and metabolic rates, anoxia and bee performance; heat shock and circadian rhythms; factors influencing time of first flight in the morning; oxidative stress and development; the effect of diet and diapause on super cooling points; and macronutrients and temperature stress.
The program is managed by NDSU biology associate professor Julia Bowsher and NDSU biology professor Kendra Greenlee.
Coatings and Polymeric Materials Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)
The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) is a program for undergraduate students in chemistry, materials science, chemical engineering, and related fields who are between their junior and senior years and intend to pursue graduate studies in polymers and coatings science.
Managed by coatings and polymeric materials professor Andriy Voronov and supported through grants and departmental funds, the NDSU SURE program offers students an opportunity to learn firsthand about projects in synthesis of bio-based polymers; synthesis of high-performance polymers; polymers/polymeric materials for biomedical applications; polymeric nanomaterials; polymeric materials environmental applications and effects; and computational polymer science.
SURE has run annually for more than 15 years. In 2021, the program featured five students who worked with researchers for 10 weeks over the summer. All students received both a stipend and housing expenses allowance.
Research Opportunities for Engaging Students (ROPES)
The College of Science and Mathematics coordinates a long-standing Research Opportunities for Engaging Students (ROPES) program, providing an opportunity for students to work with science and mathematics faculty. ROPES differs from the other undergraduate research programs in that it’s a full-year program that includes classroom research time across all areas of science and mathematics.
ROPES targets honing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills for students and promotes a hands-on experience. Both make students more competitive for scholarships and fellowships and provide a good base for future graduate-level education.
Nearly 200 students are involved annually in the program and receive either class credit, a stipend, or a combination of both. In its 11th year, approximately 150 ROPES students are currently working in 59 different research projects. ROPES research opportunities are typically one to three students, but a few options exist for up to seven students. There isn’t a formal application process as students apply directly to the faculty members based on their research interest.
Undergraduate research has been shown to promote the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills while providing important opportunities for networking and public speaking. It also gives students a powerful career development opportunity. Undergraduates who engage in research report significantly higher levels of satisfaction with their overall academic experience, a better connection to faculty, and an increased feeling of being valued on campus. At the same time, undergraduate research opportunities help promote NDSU graduate programs to high-potential students at the time in their academic careers when they are considering graduate school.