Written by Sean Beckwith, Web Content Developer for USF CMS
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The USF College of Marine Sciences (CMS) hosted five Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) participants this summer from four minority serving institutions (MSIs): Xavier University of Louisiana, Medgar Evers College, University of Virgin Islands, and Spelman College. The students were selected by faculty members of their institutions who were invited to CMS for the Faculty Visitation Program in Fall 2018.
Matching the applicants’ academic background with USF faculty members’ research, the five REU participants were paired with professors Dr. Tim Conway, Dr. Larry Dishaw, Dr. Xinfeng Liang, Dr. Brad Rosenheim, and Dr. Amelia Shevenell who trained the students in marine chemistry, marine microbiology, marine physics, marine geochemistry, and marine geology, respectively.
Dr. Ana Arellano, Diversity Director and Chemical Oceanographer at CMS, led the program with assistance from Dr. David Naar, coordinating professional development workshops, lab tours, graduate seminars, social/team building activities, and a research cruise led by Dr. David Naar, Associate Dean and co-organizer of the REU program.
The objective of this REU supplement was to provide an interdisciplinary research and professional development experience that will encourage underrepresented minority students to pursue both graduate education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The overarching goal is to develop a Ph.D. student pipeline, especially with students from other disciplines (engineering, computer science, mathematics, biomedical, etc.) who have historically not entered graduate programs in marine science.
The program kicked off with a workshop, “How to Write a Conference Paper,” facilitated by Dr. Labrador at the USF College of Engineering (COE), who also led a graduate school workshop later in the summer.
The participants toured laboratories at CMS, COE and USF Health to gain a first-hand look at academic science. Throughout the 10-week program, they would spend plenty of time in the lab and in meetings with graduate students and advisors as they completed their research.
Working with Dr. Conway, Tione Grant (University of the Virgin Islands) focused his summer research on improving methods for measuring nickel, an element found in trace concentrations in the ocean. Angel Cedeno (University of the Virgin Islands) worked with Dr. Liang to validate historical data of heat measurements in the ocean. Jenelle DeVry (Xavier University of Louisiana) worked with Dr. Rosenheim to study the effect of grain size on activation energy; the work relates to dating Antarctic sediments. Richard Rivera (Medgar Evers College), working with Dr. Shevenell, used a particle analyzer to sort and measure grains, part of research to understand climate change throughout the Halocene, Earth’s most recent geologic time period. Alexis Peterson (Spelman University) worked with Dr. Larry Dishaw to study bacterial colonization and effect by phages using a marine invertebrate model.
The visiting students participated in a wealth of activities in addition to their daily research routine. Bernard Batson, from the USF COE, organized a visit to the Kennedy Space Center with 54 REU participants from five USF REU programs: Weather, Climate and Society (Geosciences), Functional Material and Manufacturing Institute (COE), Ubiquitous Sensing (COE), Preeminence Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) and Marine Science (CMS).
Dr. Naar led a research cruise on the R/V Hogarth, where students were trained to collect multibeam data, run a CTD cast, and fill water samples at four locations along a transect from Tampa Bay into the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to regular professional development workshops and focused meetings with graduate students, the participants attended thesis and dissertation defenses and several seminars by visiting scientists to round out the research experience and expose them to presentations from the scientific community. They also toured the federal research institutions in the vicinity of CMS – NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office and the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.
At the conclusion of their research projects, REU participants gave an oral presentation of their posters to 40 graduate students, staff, and faculty at the first CMS REU Summer Symposium, St. Petersburg, Florida. They also had the opportunity to present their posters at the USF Undergraduate Research Summer Symposium in Tampa, Florida.
In addition to professional development workshops, participants attended social events, including Soca music with the underrepresented minorities (URM) students from CMS, lunch with Bernard Batson and COE students at the Top of the Palms in USF Tampa, dinner at Cheesecake Factory with CMS and COE URM students hosted by Sloan UCEM, celebratory lunch at Portillo’s before the Undergraduate Research Summer Symposium in Tampa, weekly grocery store trips (sometimes amid Florida summer storms), and a visit to Ybor City and Gulfport.
Finally, REU participants were awarded their certificates of completion in a commencement ceremony/farewell get-together with CMS graduate students and faculty.
Although there is a steady increase in the enrollment of URM students within STEM graduate programs in recent years, numbers remain low compared to their representation in our country. This program will help develop Ph.D. student pipelines, especially with students from other disciplines (engineering, computer science, mathematics, bio-med, etc.) and backgrounds. This pipeline will increase recruitment of URM students at CMS, and thus, the CMS REU program will broaden the ethnic and racial range of people in geosciences, which is an important component to higher levels of scientific innovation.