Undergraduate Research Programs at Purdue
Research internships are a key component of collaboration efforts between Purdue and Colombia. Each year, a significant number of undergraduate students from different Colombian universities arrive at Purdue. Their goal is to participate in research projects in their respective fields of interest. These academic experiences have proven to be decisive moments in the professional lives of students, and also a benefitial contribution to Purdue research.
SURF - UniAndes
In 2003 Purdue’s College of Engineering launched the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The purpose was to offer undergraduate students an experience that would enhance classroom learning, involve them in real problem solving scenarios, and spark their interest in research careers in science and engineering. SURF started with just about 50 students from different American universities. This year, however, Purdue received over 500 applications, and accepted 147 students who will work in different research projects. Among those, a small group of undergraduates from Universidad de los Andes (Uniandes) in Colombia was granted the opportunity to join the SURF program.
Purdue’s strategic involvement in Colombia caught Uniandes’ attention. They had been developing a similar program that sent their students to Cornell over the summer. The International Office at Uniandes contacted Dr. Vicki Leavitt, SURF Program Manager, and Dr. Melba Crawford, Associate Dean of Engineering for Research and SURF Director. With their help, they were able to include six Colombian students in the program. They come from different fields: there are two in Biomedical Engineering, two in Biology, one in Computer Engineering, and one in Physics. One of them, Paula Sarmiento, recently won the annual contest for the design of the SURF T-shirt logo.
SURF students are paired with professors and graduate student mentors to work on interdisciplinary research projects. The Colombian students acknowledged the effort made by the SURF Program staff to also create plenty of opportunities for socializing, networking, and enjoying fun activities during their stay. Among these is a popular soccer league, in which about 80 SURF students are participating. They claim their participation in the SURF program is crucial for their future, as it has allowed them to have a glimpse of what graduate school is like. Additionally, they have been able to measure their abilities as researchers, significantly improve their academic English skills, and make valuable professional and personal connections.
We hope that more and more Colombian students can come to have this extraordinary academic and life experience at Purdue!
SURF-UniAndes Students at Purdue during the Summer 2016
For the third time, a group of students from Icesi University (Cali, Colombia) came to spend ten weeks at Purdue. The group is part of an undergraduate research summer program developed and led by Dr. Michael Mickelbart (Purdue) and Dr. Thaura Ghneim Herrera (Icesi). The goal of this initiative is to create a space for Colombian students to engage in laboratory research, experience life at a large U.S. university, and to develop relationships with students and faculty at Purdue.
The idea for the program flourished when Dr. Mickelbart visited Icesi in 2012 as a Fulbright Specialist. In the fall of that year he collaborated with Dr. Ghneim on the development of a lab course in Plant Physiology, and assisted her in teaching a Plant Physiological Ecology field course, and a course in Plant Developmental Biology. From this collaboration emerged the idea to invite Icesi students to visit Purdue in the summer of 2013. Since then, both professors have worked together to build a summer research internship program that has supported the training of a total of fourteen students from Icesi’s Biological Sciences department.
Icesi students undergo a tough selection process that considers their academic record, English proficiency, research experience, and their interest in current research projects at Purdue. After the selection is made, students are matched with faculty at Purdue that perform research in their areas of interest. To date, students have worked in diverse areas of plant biology, including physiology, pathology, genetics and breeding, and molecular biology. Students have worked in the departments of Agronomy, Botany & Plant Pathology Entomology, and Horticulture & Landscape Architecture. Icesi students work in their respective labs, meet to discuss their progress among them, and finally prepare a poster that they present at a poster session, attended by Purdue students, faculty, and staff.
An important aspect to highlight is the funding scheme designed to support the program. Dr. Mickelbart and Dr. Ghneim raise funds to support the students' research internship. At Purdue, Dr. Mickelbart and the hosting professors cover research costs and provide a grant for each student. At Icesi, Dr. Ghneim, together with the Icesi International Office Affairs, contact Colombian donors, who contribute travel and living expenses. Together, they guarantee that at least 60% of the students’ expenses are covered. Drs. Ghneim and Mickelbart are currently seeking other forms of support to maintain the long-term viability of the program.
The visit from Icesi students has proven to be a great experience, both academically and culturally. Dr. Mickelbart has praised the students’ professionalism, as have graduate students and faculty who work with them. Their laboratory performance has received consistently positive evaluations from their mentors and peers. From their side, many have considered their stay at Purdue as a life-changing experience, which has allowed them to access first class tools for their specific research areas. The students also appreciate the dedication and supervision of their mentors and laboratory staff.
Among the many successful outcomes of this program, it is important to cite one in particular: several students will be co-authors on peer-reviewed scientific papers, acknowledging their contribution to the published work. We expect that many more successful stories will derive from this fruitful collaboration.
Dr. Thaura Ghneim would like to thank the following Colombian donors that have made this program possible: Avianca, Aviatur, Arrocera La Esmeralda, SMURFIT Kappa, Ingenio Mayagüez, Ingenio Providencia, Universidad Icesi.
Group of ICESI undergraduate students, Purdue graduate students and professors at Purdue in 2013
ICESI Students at a poster session at Purdue in 2015