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Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) summer reseach student Colin Rojas, a sophomore geological sciences major, works on his project with Assistant Professor Jeffrey Pietras.
Research programs prepare underrepresented minorities for grad school
December 8, 2014Tweet
Colin Rojas had always liked science, but chemistry and physics were too theory-based for him. Geology, on the other hand, was tangible – rocks are solid, tough.
This summer he used a computer program to map and trace different rock units across the North American Arctic over the past couple hundred million years to see how the quality of those sands have changed. Talk about tangible.
“The research was a great time, and I’m really glad I did it because it will lead me to doing more research in the future,” said Rojas, a junior majoring in geological sciences.
Rojas got to conduct this research as a participant in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Summer Research Internship Program, an eight-week paid summer internship for underrepresented minorities pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with the goal of preparing them for graduate programs. LSAMP is held in tandem with the McNair Scholars Summer Research Internship Program, which offers similar research opportunities to low-income, first generation and/or underrepresented minority students who want to pursue doctoral studies.
“We know that minorities are not proportionally represented in higher education. So they’re not enrolled in colleges and minorities as high as they should be, and they’re not earning degrees,” said Shanise Kent, director of the McNair and LSAMP programs. “These [programs] are important in order to get more underrepresented minorities into graduate school.”
Students in the LSAMP and McNair summer programs conduct research under a faculty mentor for 30 hours a week for eight weeks, receiving a competitive stipend for support while they conduct their research. At the end of the eight-week period, students present their research at on-campus and regional conferences.
“Summer research allows [students] to still have an academic proponent in the summer, while earning some money; and that, of course, helps them prepare for grad school,” said Kent.
Kent noted that much of the success of these two programs is owed to Binghamton’s accommodating faculty. Some mentors have worked with students every summer since she took the reins seven years ago; some have been mentoring even longer.
“I think that’s something that’s unique about both our LSAMP and McNair programs, that we have such great faculty buy-in and the faculty are eager and happy to work with our summer researchers,” she said.
Assistant Professor of Geology Jeffrey Pietras was happy to have Rojas help him conduct research on sandstones. Pietras had worked with the same data set in the past in the oil and gas industry. While he had made some big-scale observations, he wanted to explore the data in more detail.
“Colin’s really starting to have the time to scratch into it,” Pietras said. “We’re actually seeing some new things that are really kind of enlightening, so it’s a really nice project.”
Pietras showed Rojas how to use ArcGIS, a geographic information system used by geologists for working with maps and geographic information. Rojas picked things up quickly.
“There’s an art to how to handle large data sets — sort through them, sift through them – and so it’s really something that he’s been working on and learning, and he’s been doing really well,” Pietras said.
While Rojas found it challenging at times to sort through the huge amounts of data the research called for, it was all worth it when things came together.
“There were a few small moments where things came together the way they should, and it’s a lot of trial and error,” he said. “And it’s probably error 95 percent of the time. But when it comes together, it feels pretty good.”
Gina Abrams, a senior majoring in human development and psychology, didn’t study sandstones, but conducted some hard-hitting research of her own as a participant in the McNair summer program.
Working with Assistant Professor of Public Administration George Homsy, Abrams explored the implementation of incentive zoning, asking city managers and planners across the country what kind of incentives they offer developers to provide public benefits in their projects. For example, developers who propose projects that incorporate some kind of renewable energy component might be permitted extra square footage or additional units in a residential area.
“I learned what social science research might entail,” Abrams said. “I had never done this kind of research before, so it definitely gave me a better picture of it.”
Homsy was happy to have a student help him out over the summer. He plans to include Abrams as a co-author on a future research paper.
“[The McNair program] picks people who might be very good researchers, and she would be an excellent researcher if she wanted to be,” Homsy said.
Abrams isn’t sure what she wants to do for a living yet — social scientist is a possibility — but Rojas has a plan. He’s interested in oil and gas exploration, using geological techniques and computer analysis to locate oil and gas pockets. Thanks to his summer research, he’s already got some rock-solid experience.
“It’s a good chance to do research and get exposed to what you may want to do in the future,” Rojas said. “The career exposure is good.”