UREP-C: A successful Purdue Colombia internship program
20 UREP-C students in 2016
A group of 20 undergraduate students from Universidad Nacional (UNAL) arrived in June to have individual six-month research internships at Purdue. The students are part of a program called UREP-C, Undergraduate Research Experience Purdue-Colombia. Unlike most research internships, which typically last about 10 weeks, UREP-C is a 6 month program. During this time students engage in a research project. Their six-month stay allows students to have extensive participation, and in some cases even to publish their research results.
UREP-C exists because of small developmental steps and pilot initiatives. It all started four years ago in 2012, when Diego Hernández, former vice rector of Universidad Nacional, came to visit Purdue. He met with Juan Diego Velásquez, Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives for the College of Engineering and current Managing Director of the Colombia-Purdue Initiative. Both Hernández and Velásquez were looking for a way to bring undergraduate students from UNAL for an internship experience at Purdue. They managed to bring four students that were paired with major professors and worked in laboratory research projects. The experience was successful, but the program was far from formalized.
Diego Hernández recalls how it all started: “I got very excited about the program because I saw we lacked an international internship program at Universidad Nacional. At first we thought it would be very hard to have the professors and researchers accept our students as part of their team because they didn’t know about our university, but it turned out to be easier than expected. And then, in time, the first students opened the doors for other students to go and have the same experience”. Hernández believes that the program strategically stimulates academic excellence among students. He explains that only the best students make the cut, as they are required to have a high GPA, and also to take an English course for a full year before travelling. Hernández also highlights the social impact of the program: “Many of the students that go there would not have otherwise had the opportunity to travel abroad. They don’t have the resources it takes. But thanks to this program, and thanks to the partnership with Purdue, they have a life changing experience”.
Over time, the program has become a paradigm of how to encourage and support students’ abilities. In 2014, Dr. Tamara Benjamin, working on behalf of the Colombia Purdue Initiative and joining forces with Dr. Nancy Rozo, Director of the International Relations Office at UNAL, officially launched the UREP-C program. They envisioned the creation of a sustainable platform for students from UNAL to participate in research projects at Purdue. Tamara traveled to Colombia several times, and she was in charge of meeting, interviewing, and selecting the final candidates, as well as making arrangements with Universidad Nacional. As a result of all these efforts, in 2014, a group of 25 undergraduate students from UNAL came to Purdue to participate in a research internship. These students came from programs such as Agronomy, Engineering, and Biology.
UREP-C proved to be a success. As a result, in 2015, the program was expanded to receive 49 students. This time, they came from diverse programs, which included the Schools of Dentistry, Law, Political Science, Art, Nursing, and others. One of the great advantages that UNAL offers is the fact that it reaches different cities in Colombia. This allows students from various campuses to have the opportunity to participate in UREP-C. For 2015, the program received applicants from UNAL’s headquarters in Bogotá, as well as Manizales, Palmira, and Medellín.
Ulianova Vidal, a graduate student in Entomology at Purdue, joined UREP-C in 2015 as the program coordinator. She explained that the students attend a series of informative seminars that take place every week. Also, the program ends with a final symposium in which students present their work. The format for the symposium is the same as any scientific conference, and students are expected to present in English, to an audience composed of Purdue and UNAL faculty and students.
But not all is work. UREP-C leaders also acknowledged that the International Friendship Program from the International Programs Office pairs students with local families. Some of those ties have been so significant in past years that several host families have travelled to Colombia to get to know the country, and to see their new friends. Also, the Colombian Student Association at Purdue, CSAP, is instrumental in the adaptation process of UREP-C students. CSAP implemented a Big Brother Program to pair these undergraduates with a graduate student. This is intended to facilitate their stay, and to accompany them to cultural and academic events that take place in town.
This year, the group is composed of more than 20 students who will be staying at Purdue until December. We wish them a great learning and cultural experience. Welcome, and Boiler Up!
49 UREP-C students on their arrival to Purdue in June 2015
26 UREP-C students meet President Mitch Daniels in 2014