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March 28, 2014 | Since 1987, more than 7,000 college and university students in the geosciences have benefited from summer-long stints with the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. On March 19–21, it was the REU leaders’ turn to meet and learn, as faculty from more than 65 institutions that conduct REU programs in atmospheric, geospace, Earth, ocean, and polar science got a chance to exchange strategies and ideas at a workshop held at Center Green.
The 2nd GEO REU Workshop was sponsored by NSF’s Geosciences Directorate (GEO) and hosted by UCP’s SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Undergraduate Research and Science), a national model for bringing underrepresented groups into atmospheric and related sciences. The inaugural GEO REU workshop was held in 2011 in San José, California.
The 2014 meeting was “very productive and valuable,” says participant Ana Dittel (University of Delaware). “I came back energized and with lots of good ideas.”
NSF program officer Lisa Rom gathered feedback and provided guidance to the REU principal investigators on national-level initiatives. “A really important outcome was the exchange of ideas about best practices in the small-group sessions,” says Rom. “I’ve heard many comments about new ideas that will be implemented at REU sites this summer.”
According to SOARS director Rebecca Haacker-Santos, “Many PIs strengthened their networks and exchanged best practices, and some even began collaborating on joint publications.”
SOARS was a natural host for the gathering, given its years of involvement in the REU community and its success in giving a diverse group of undergraduates the chance to carry out meaningful research through intensive mentoring. Those traditions will enter a new phase with the help of Valerie Sloan, the newest member of the SOARS team and a lead planner for the REU meeting. Valerie is working to fund and operate a new SOARS Resource Center for Undergraduate Research. The center will serve as a source of advice and support for the REU community and a leader in evaluating and documenting successful strategies for engaging undergraduates in research.
A top-level goal for the new center, and for REU PIs in general, is increasing the diversity of undergraduates recruited and retained in geoscience-related programs. NSF has highlighted this goal as a priority for the Geosciences Directorate and a crucial part of ensuring the nation’s economic and social health.
“We are attempting to reach younger students and more diverse students, and that requires a different approach to student recruitment and training,” says Rom. “All of the GEO education program officers are looking forward to seeing what will be accomplished through using some of the new methods and models for REUs discussed at the workshop in Boulder.”