Undergrads hit labs this spring break

While many students are enjoying some downtime over spring break, 21 undergraduate researchers at CU-Boulder are building robots, creating data visualization tools and advancing X-ray technology.

The students are doing this as part of Spring Break for Research, an initiative, now in its second year, that pairs high achieving undergraduate students with graduate student mentors for a week of hands-on research.

“Opportunities such as this one are essential to making sure that our campus is actively working to broaden participation in academia and is truly inclusive of students from all backgrounds,” said Sarah Miller, assistant dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Of the undergraduate students in the program this year, 13 are freshmen and eight are underrepresented minority students. Thirteen are women and 17 are from Colorado. Several of the graduate mentors are international students. Together, they will research topics such as microwave assisted polymerization, robotics, small angle X-ray scattering and combustion data visualization.

“A highlight for me personally is to engage with someone else on my research,” said Arthur Antoine, a second-year PhD candidate in construction engineering and management. “This program helps undergraduates learn how to engage with faculty and use faculty as a resource.”

Antoine is mentoring Sweta Tripathi, a freshman studying environmental engineering. They are tackling an analysis of construction contracts. Tripathi is helping Antoine with his literature review and preparing figures for an upcoming presentation, both essential skills for research.

“I hadn’t had enough experience with engineering and real life,” said Tripathi. “I’m taking calculus and other classes, but this program helps me gain an understanding of what engineering is actually like.”

Before participating in Spring Break for Research, Tripathi, who is originally from Thornton, Colorado, didn’t think graduate school was an option. Now, she said, she can see how research can evolve from an undergraduate level to master’s and PhD programs.

Alongside the hands-on research experience, the undergraduate students are hearing from a panel of graduate students about applying to graduate school, securing funding and publishing in academic journals and at conferences. Following the program, participants are encouraged to seek out opportunities for research in their fields of study, such as aerospace engineering, environmental engineering or computer science.

“Many of our undergraduate engineers would be phenomenal researchers and professors, but may not know this yet,” said Miller. “We want to find them, attract them and encourage them. We also hope our participating graduate students who go on to faculty positions will be more experienced in mentoring and teaching diverse students.”

Spring Break for Research applications are available each fall for both undergraduate participants and graduate student mentors. The program, housed in the BOLD (Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity) Center, is supported through the Engineering for Excellence Fund.