Forging Friendships and Gaining Research Experience in REU 2017

08/11/2017

REU 2017 Interns

Congratulations to the 18 interns who have recently completed the 2017 Research Experience for Undergraduates program!

REU, launched in 2004, has been a success in bringing students from across the country to learn about research methods and polymers here at The University of Akron’s College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. This year’s successful internship program, directed by Polymer Science Professor Dr. Mesfin Tsige, ended on August 11th. It consisted of eleven weeks of research and career development including visits to places like regional polymer-based companies and a national laboratory.

REU 2017 Interns

REU is intended to provide several things for undergraduate students, such as: valuable work experiences and rare resources, opportunities to work alongside graduates in the field, and the ability to learn more about polymers through different disciplines, including but not limited to engineering, chemistry, physics, and biomaterials. The students who leave REU often become faculty at universities across the nation and recommend the experience to their students, thus creating a successful pipeline to CPSPE and polymer research.

“This REU program was an opportunity to explore my choices and to get a feel of what it is to be a researcher in the field of science, along with expanding my connections,” said REU participant Hamna Siddiqui. “My favorite component of the program was getting to know other REU students and getting to know about other research that is happening. This provided a nice balance of a professional work setting and a fun summer with students that were looking into similar future careers.”

REU is indeed a great balance between work and fun. The program concluded with a final presentation of research results at the 14th annual Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Research Symposium at Case Western Reserve University, followed by a trip to Cedar Point and a fun group cookout. Although the interns had fun getting to know one another this summer, the experience was not without its challenges.

“The most challenging, yet exciting part was running the experiments and not knowing what the outcome would be,” Siddiqui said. “I had some experience with experiments on a smaller scale… but this research was on a larger scale… it was challenging to learn new methods and techniques along with accepting to not be discouraged by results that deviated from what we expected.”

Another REU intern, Katherine Deitrick, said, “Research certainly involves a degree of solitude and, thus, satisfaction in self and your work. Initially, it was a challenging adjustment. I’ve always had a summer job that was social and immediately seeing the fruition of my work. In contrast, research work may take weeks, months, or even years to see the impact of your discoveries on other human lives. That’s something I struggled with: a sense of contribution and purpose.”

The internship, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation as well as the Dean’s Office of the College, has provided valuable experience for hundreds of undergrads who have been able to use that experience to their advantage in their careers. This year brings 18 more students from colleges all over the nation into the fold, including Siddiqui.

“I definitely believe this experience will help me in my future career whether I choose to attend medical school or graduate school. I have been able to improve my oral and written skills, be more informed about other research, and have been able to expand my problem solving abilities. This program gave me the confidence to speak publicly and to apply the knowledge that I had learned in classes. I believe that the skills from this program can be applied to any career.”

Each student who was asked said that they felt the program prepared them for their future careers, no matter what that may be. Of course, it’s not all about the research. Deitrick also said of the program:

“[My favorite part was] the friends I’ve met here, because they have opened my eyes to new perspectives, challenged me to grow, built me up when I needed it most, strengthened my confidence, and helped me laugh often. I’ll honestly never forget the things they’ve taught me.”

CPSPE is proud to provide these opportunities with the support of the National Science Foundation.