Education Corner:
Interest Surges in NHERI REU Program

Published on March 19, 2018


Karina Vielma-Cumpian, EdD
NHERI Education and Community Outreach

Research Fellow and Educational Specialist
University of Texas, San Antonio
College of Engineering

When it comes to education, the National Science Foundation provides outstanding opportunities to college-level engineers with its Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REU, program.

The NHERI REU is particularly attractive because it provides hands-on summer internships at 10 experimental facilities (EFs) — at top-tier universities across the nation.

This year, over 100 undergraduates applied for 30 REU positions.

NHERI’s REU coordinator, Dr. Karina Vielma, reports that the Education and Community Outreach Committee used data from last year’s assessment to strategize this year’s recruitment techniques. “Students in last year’s cohort informed us that getting personal guidance from professors encouraged them to apply.”

The ECO team contacted engineering faculty at the NHERI experimental facilities and asked them to urge students to apply, especially those who would most benefit from the experience. The team also used databases such as Pathways to Science to promote the application. They also promoted the program heavily on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, the team recruited undergraduates at minority-serving institutions with degree programs fitting the natural hazard engineering communities, and they continued to connect with civil engineering undergraduate programs throughout the U.S. — all of which helped the NHERI ECO reach their desired metric.

“For me, the most exciting part of the program is learning from last year’s experiences and instituting improvements, such as including a structured mentoring curriculum for faculty and graduate student mentors — which will improve students’ experiences.”

Vielma says the biggest challenge is getting the word out and encouraging students to apply. “Many students from the 2017 cohort reported they did not believe it was possible to conduct research at a state of the art experimental site.”

She says exciting events are in the works this summer, such as the group visit to Oregon State University on August 6-7, when students will tour the EF, present their research, and meet their peers working at other sites in person. Prior to this meeting, students meet weekly online using distance learning applications.

“This year, we will have three students at all 10 NHERI sites, and the RAPID facility at the University of Washington will be joining the REU program.”