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Developing Young Scientists: College Students Sought for Paid Summer Research Opportunities

Northern Illinois University is seeking non-NIU college students who are interested in environmental issues to work on research projects this summer with university scientists.

Northern Illinois University is seeking non-NIU college students who are interested in environmental issues to work on research projects this summer with university scientists.

As many as eight undergraduates will be chosen. Selected students will receive free housing on NIU’s campus – and each will be paid a stipend of $4,478.

The students also will have opportunities to rub elbows with researchers at federal laboratories, participate in a number of regional workshops and share ideas on topics related to the environment, energy, the economy and ethics.

The research-immersion opportunities are being made possible through a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program hosted by NIU and funded by the National Science Foundation. NIU last summer ran a similar program, which was highly successful and drew participants from as far away as California.

The 2013 REU program aims to operate an interdisciplinary research-based think tank, known as Operation ETank, to engage undergraduates on perspectives of sustainability as they work with scientists. The REU program will run from Monday, June 17, through Saturday, Aug. 10.

To be eligible to apply, students must have at least 60 earned credit hours, a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and be citizens or permanent residents of the United States.

Community college students and undergrads at any college studying biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental sciences and the earth sciences are especially encouraged to apply, although all student applications will be considered.

More information on the program – including a list of professors, their research projects and application information – is available online. All application materials must be received by 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 1.

A limited number of slots in the program also will be reserved for NIU students, who will participate in the program and serve as peer mentors.

“The goal of the REU program is to develop students’ personal and scientific skills to help them mature into young scientists,” said Lisa Freeman, NIU vice president for research and graduate studies.

“Last summer, the students who participated in Operation E-Tank were able to increase their confidence and expertise significantly over the course of only eight weeks. And all of the program students and faculty had a great time in the process,” she added.

Students supported under REU site awards typically come from institutions where research opportunities for undergraduates are limited. NIU benefits, too, because Operation E-Tank will help recruit students to upper-division and graduate programs, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

Freeman spearheaded the effort to hold summer REU programs at NIU, bringing together a team that included professors David Changnon in geography and Cliff Mirman in technology; Julia Spears, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning; and professor Lesley Rigg, associate dean for research and graduate affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“We are excited about the opportunities for undergraduates to participate in in-depth research projects with some of NIU’s top research scientists,” said Changnon, who serves as the program coordinator.

“The faculty-mentored student projects will focus on research issues related to the environment and sustainability. Students are expected to walk away from the experience with an enhanced understanding of the research endeavor.”

That was exactly the outcome last year for Pettee Guerrero. She had just graduated from Triton College in River Grove with an associate’s degree when she was selected to be a 2012 REU program participant.

Guerrero worked with NIU professors conducting research on energy storage in specialized batteries that could be used in high-speed locomotives.

“It was the best experience for me,” she said, adding that it cemented her decision to attend NIU, where she is now pursuing a degree in industrial and management technology.

“The cool thing about the research was the diversity of professors we were able to work with,” Guerrero said. “We were exposed to all the different research projects that were going on in these different fields. Overall, it just opened my eyes so much to issues surrounding sustainability, research and the ethics of research. It definitely made me consider going to graduate school and staying in the academic world.”

For more information on the REU program, contact Michaela Friedrichova at (815) 753-8154 or via email at etank@niu.edu.

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