This is the third year of the program, and 40 students from a variety of fields participated. This year’s research topics included the tracking of space debris, virtual reality as a tool for space habitat design and teaching robots how to better identify locations and objects in images, among many others.
Through the SPUR program, undergraduate engineering students can earn hourly wages while engaging in research with college faculty and graduate students. The 10-week program is open to students with a GPA of 2.7 or better. In addition to the paid research opportunity, students get career advice and attend other presentations that will help them plan for the future.
Half of the funding for the program comes from the Engineering Excellence Fund, and the other half comes from the participating faculty member who mentors the student.
The final presentations summed up the students’ work over the summer or 10 weeks and gave a valuable chance to speak about their research in public. Alexandra Jaros, a rising senior in mechanical engineering, presented on Monday.
Jaros spent the summer helping to build and test a wildfire-resistant wind tunnel. When completed, the tunnel will help with flame modeling and spread across different variables like wind and air pressure. The data could then be applied to bigger models being used for things like fighting wildfires. Jaros was specifically tasked with physically designing and creating the test section of the tunnel, as well as the data acquisition tools and programs in it.
Jaros said she heard about the SPUR program from Assistant Professor Greg Rieker, who wound up mentoring her on the project after she was selected. She said the program has sparked her interest in research and potentially getting a master’s or doctorate in the future.
“The lab that I am working with has been really supportive and (the program) provides a lot of resources to make sure you are on track,” Jaros said. “The seminars at the beginning – on forward thinking for job options for example – were really helpful. They gave me a path to see the resources for my next steps over the summer while I have time to think about things like that, which was great.”
Karol Mann, a raising senior in chemical and biological engineering, worked over the summer in the Anseth Research Group on the design of hydrogels for tissue engineering. She said that seeing classroom concepts used in an actual lab was a valuable experience for her.
“It was a good opportunity to see what a graduate lab is like, and my mentor (Benjamin Cadberry) had a lot more time for me than I thought he would,” she said. “It was good to get an idea what it is like to design your own experiments and problem solve when things go wrong, which is something I didn’t have in undergrad lab work.”
Extracurricular Programs Manager Sharon Anderson said the SPUR program has been growing each year because it is an appealing option, whether for busy student athletes or students who want to explore their career options during a quiet part of the year.
“Some students don’t have the bandwidth to take that time away to do research; this program gives them a good option to do that while getting paid and still living in Boulder,” she said. “It’s a chance to dip their toe into the water and see if research is something they want to do.”
Anderson added that the lower GPA requirement, compared to the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship Program held during the semester, allows for student who may not have the greatest grades to go into a lab and maybe come out motivated and energized.
Anderson said many of the students in the program would be continuing their research into the school year. She said some have even told her the program was a highlight of their summer and possibly their entire college experience.
“It is valuable for the students to use the concepts they are learning in the classroom in an actual lab - experiencing the testing and failure,” she said. “A lot of students come here and get degrees, but they never go into a lab. There are hallways of doors that have really cool things going on behind them that they never get to see.”