Dog days of summer?
Not a chance here on the NIU campus, which is abuzz with student research, even more so than usual.
It’s no secret that NIU students regularly assist faculty year-round in research laboratories across campus. But the recent additions of three specially focused summer programs is ratcheting up efforts to introduce both NIU and non-NIU students to the ins and outs of research and nurture their interests in science and artistry.
The eight-week programs, which provide room and board on campus along with significant stipends for participants, boast a combined 33 undergraduates. They are working on research related to such topics as cancer therapy, the workings of the human brain, the effect of climate change on plant species, grasslands restoration, marine biology and even documentary filmmaking.
Students will present their work and posters in a new Summer Research Programs Symposium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium. The event is open to the public and will include lunch.
The student presenters have worked closely with faculty mentors in the following programs:
Lisa Freeman, NIU vice president for research and graduate studies, launched the university’s REU program in 2012. It is hosted by NIU and funded by the National Science Foundation. This year, the program has grown to 13 participating students. Eleven come from outside institutions, ranging from the Los Angeles Valley College to the University of Maryland. The goal is to develop students’ personal and scientific skills to help them mature into young scientists.
Ten NIU students earned entry into this highly competitive pilot program. Components include leadership development, design of research or artistic projects and civic, social and global engagement that includes significant interaction with highly successful NIU alumni.
In its inaugural year, SROP was created to provide NIU students with yet another avenue to conduct summer research. Ten students representing three colleges and eight majors are working on projects.
“During the summer, NIU professors often step up their research efforts,” said Julia Spears, director of the NIU Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, which has a hand in all of the programs. “At the same time, students are typically looking for summer jobs, so the university has increased its efforts to tap into faculty research programs.
“These projects can provide unparalleled opportunities for engaged-learning experiences that help students with academic and career development or in their preparations for graduate school,” Spears added.
McKearn Fellow and aspiring documentary filmmaker Juliana Leprich, an NIU junior from Antioch double-majoring in media studies and public administration, said she likely would have spent the summer in her hometown working at a job unrelated to her areas of study.
“I want to go into documentary filmmaking, so this experience has been invaluable,” Leprich said. “In our program, we’ve also been able to interact with alumni, and it has been really cool to hear their stories and make those connections. I never thought I’d get an experience like this as an undergraduate.”
Larissa Root, a junior biological sciences major from McHenry, is equally thrilled with the REU program. She is working with biological sciences professor Neil Blackstone investigating coral bleaching, a process that degrades or destroys healthy coral.
“I’ve learned how to work with professors, resolve ethical issues and work collaboratively with other researchers and REU students,” she said. “I like the fact that we can bounce ideas off of each other.”
Taylor Skokan, who is transferring this fall from a California community college to Stanford University, believes the REU experience will help with the transition. Aided by his mentor, biological sciences professor Nicholas Barber, Skokan is studying grasslands restoration and ground beetle communities as a potential indicator of habitat health.
“This is my first experience with a research project, and working with my mentor has been fantastic,” Skokan said. “It’s almost like being in a small-scale graduate program.”
Geography professor David Changnon, who is coordinating the REU program for the second consecutive summer, notes that students in all of these programs are not only doing research but working alongside professors who are often top researchers in their respective fields.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for young people, and we are amazed at what they have accomplished,” he said. “It has been a thrill to work with these young researchers.”