APS News

August/September 2008 (Volume 17, Number 8)

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

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

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

August/September 2008 (Volume 17, Number 8)

APS News Home

Issue Table of Contents

APS News Archives

Contact APS News Editor

Articles in this Issue
Franz to Step Down as APS Executive Officer; Search Committee Seeks Her Successor
Physics is for Physicists (and others)
APS Funds 27 Minority Scholars in 2008-2009
Astrowatch Keeps LIGO’s Eyes on the Sky
US Team Wins Five Medals at Hanoi Competition
Team Overcomes Politics to Broadcast Eclipse
Workshop Bridges the Worlds of Academia, Science Museums
REU Experience Can Change People’s Lives
Briefing Explains how Accelerator Can Boost Industry
Making Energy While the Sun Shines
Towson PhysTEC Project Targets Elementary Science Teaching
Science Societies Quiz Congressional Candidates
Inside the Beltway
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science