APS News

REU Experience Can Change People’s Lives

Leaders of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs gathered in June for a workshop facilitated by the APS Education and Diversity Department. At the meeting, held June 11-13 at the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland, about 40 participants discussed ways to improve these summer undergraduate research programs, assess the impact of their programs on the undergraduates, and recruit a diverse group of participants.

The National Science Foundation has funded a number of these summer research programs for undergraduate physics students for about 20 years, but in the past 15 years the leaders of programs at different sites haven’t gotten together to discuss what works. One goal of the recent meeting was to produce a report collecting best practices, said APS education consultant Cathy Mader, a co-organizer of the workshop.  

Most undergraduate physics majors engage in some sort of research experience. Many do so at their home institution, while 23% participate in an REU, which provides them an organized summer research experience away from their home university.

One of the workshop steering committee members, Sherry Yennello of Texas A&M University, emphasized the value of these programs. “What you guys are doing is critically important,” she told the participants.

Larry Josbeno of Corning Community College said that students return from their summer research experience excited about physics research. “These programs have changed people’s lives,” he said.  “I’ve never had a student that had a bad experience in an REU program.”

The workshop included informal, seminar-like conversation as well as presentations and panel discussions. Participants and panelists discussed administrative models, focusing on sharing the responsibilities across multiple facilities. Ideas proposed included wiki-forums, blogs, and other web forums to foster better communication among REU Principle Investigators. They also discussed management schemes, central coordination of REU programs, and better communications and management methods for Principal Investigators.

One session focused on increasing minority participation. Proposed ideas included putting a gold sticker on minority applicant’s files, and having a common application date for all REU programs. Other methods some REU leaders have found useful were making connections with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority serving institutions, and advertising the REU programs at the NSBP/NSHP (National Society of Black Physicists/ National Society of Hispanic Physicists) meetings.

Participants said they found the workshop useful “It was helpful to hear how other site directors run their programs; every site seems to have its own unique qualities. I believe the REU program is very important, and was especially impressed by the efforts to reach out to minorities and women,” said Kristan Corwin of Kansas State University.

Gray arrow  REU Conference Presentations and Resource List

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan