Discovery Learning: Apprentices Tackle Critical Issues Through Undergraduate Research

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“The DLA program gave me the invaluable opportunity to work as a research assistant on projects with a real impact on society, and expanded my skill set beyond what I learned in the classroom,” says Foss.

An undergraduate career is not a thing to waste. In the 2013-14 academic year, 54 undergraduate engineering students in the Discovery Learning Apprentice­ship program have decided to take full advantage of the short amount of time they will have on campus. In addition to taking full course loads, they spend 10 hours a week conducting research to solve problems locally, globally, and in outer space.

Nancy Lux, a senior studying environmental engineering, is working with Profes­sor Joe Ryan to better understand the effects of hydraulic fracturing on Colorado's eastern plains and foothills.

"Even though it has only been a few months since I started my research with Joe Ryan's team, I have already had the privilege to go out into the field to take samples, as well as learn new computer programs that will be valuable knowledge for other career opportunities," says Lux.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Anthony Lima is working with Professor Hanspeter Schaub on potential methods to clean up space debris. He says his exposure to the nature of graduate research has encouraged him to pursue graduate school in the future.

"The DLA program gave me the invalu­able opportunity to work as a research assistant on projects with a real impact on society. It expanded my skill set beyond what I learned in the classroom."

Started in 2004 with 12 students undertaking research for a single semester, the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship program has grown over the past 10 years into a yearlong program with 57 students currently participating in research projects across the college. Continued growth is anticipated at a rate of five additional students and projects per year.

A unique aspect of the program is that students are paid for their work - $10 per hour with up to 150 hours of work per semester and the opportunity for a $1 raise after a successful fall semester. Half of these wages come from faculty or department budgets, while the Dean's Office - thanks in part to the support of generous donors - covers the other half.

"This program is not just a job; it has given me new skills, experiences, and connec­tions," says environmental engineering junior Mallory Cottingham (in photo at right), who along with sophomore Courtney Foss (in photo at left) is working with Associate Professor Alan Mickelson to develop and distribute a low­-cost portable battery pack for Haitians to alleviate energy issues caused by the 2010 earthquake. "Above all else, I feel as though what I am doing will have an impact on the world and lives of so many people."

> Learn more about the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship program


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