Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Utah REU

The Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Utah has hosted an NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site since 2013 (with a gap in funding in 2016).  Our current site grant was awarded in 2017 and was recently renewed through 2023.  We prioritize recruitment of students from populations historically excluded from STEM, and from schools that have limited research infrastructure, but we also welcome non-minoritized students and those from research-intensive universities.

Our REU program is designed to create a highly inclusive and productive research environment for 8 students during a 10-week summer experience. The program leverages the Department’s broad range of research opportunities and rich history of developing and managing high-quality, cohort-based summer research programs. The level of student satisfaction has been very high, and many consider their participation in our program a seminal experience for their career development. The objectives of our REU site program are to:

  1. engage students in full-time active research;
  2. provide professional development opportunities for students and mentors;
  3. motivate students towards science and STEM careers by constructing an engaging, inclusive, and supportive cohort experience; and
  4. improve students’ science literacy and oral and written communication skills.

To accomplish these objectives, students engage in a variety of activities that encompass: 1) rigorous and diverse research projects; 2) professional and career development workshops; 3) enculturation into the scientific community; 4) community building; and 5) personalized mentorship. 

One unique aspect of our REU site program is that we integrate several University of Utah undergraduates into the NSF-funded REU cohort using institutional funding.  This has benefits both to those students from inside and outside the U and has led to a rich cohort dynamic with built-in knowledge of Salt Lake City and the region.  Another strength of our site is that we collaborate with the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) and 4-5 other summer undergraduate research programs at the U to coordinate professional development and social activities.

People and Roles:

  • Prof. Tino Nyawelo:  Tino is an Associate Professor (Lecturer) and Director of Undergraduate Research in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Director of Diversity and Recruitment in the Center for Science and Mathematics Education.  Tino coordinates the program including student recruitment and placement, professional development activities, weekly seminars, social events, and tracking of program alumni.  He also serves (together with Prof. Jordan Gerton and Prof. Pearl Sandick) on the REU Mentorship Council, which provides personalized mentorship support to each REU student in addition to the mentorship they receive in their research groups.  Tino is the co-PI on the NSF REU site grant.
  • Allyson Rocks:  Allyson is the Administrative Program Coordinator in the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the U.  During the Summer, she assists Prof. Tino Nyawelo with the REFUGES Summer Bridge program and also helps coordinate field trips and social events for the REU students together with REFUGES.
  • Emily Gaines:  Emily is the Director of Engagement in the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the U.  She administers and analyzes pre- and post-assessment surveys to REU mentors and students and provides deidentified data and a report to leaders of the REU programs in Chemistry and Physics & Astronomy. 
  • My role:  I direct the REU site and serve as the project PI.  I have written the last two successful REU site proposals, handle reporting responsibilities, collaborate with Prof. Tino Nyawelo on all aspects of the project, lead the REU Mentorship Council, and ensure safety and compliance of the program.  I also initiated the collaboration with OUR and other summer research programs and also negotiated a multi-unit matching scheme to fund research stipends for University of Utah undergrads integrated into the NSF-funded cohorts in Physics & Astronomy and Chemistry.
© Jordan Gerton 2019