Over a Decade of Lessons Learned from an REU Program in the Science of Global Change and Sustainability

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Eric S Hersh, Eric W James and Jay L Banner, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Geological Sciences, Austin, TX, United States
The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in “The Science of Global Change and Sustainability” at the University of Texas at Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has just completed its twelfth summer. The program has 113 REU alumni plus 5 Research Experience for Teachers (RET) alumni, selected from a competitive pool of 976 applicants (~14% acceptance rate), 68% from 61 smaller colleges and universities (of 79 schools represented), 40% of those who self-reported coming from demographics underrepresented in STEM, and with nearly 70% women. Students conduct independent research under the supervision of a faculty mentor in four major interdisciplinary themes: Impacts on Ecosystems, Impacts on Watersheds and the Land Surface, Campus Sustainability, and Reconstructing Past Global Change. These themes bridge chemistry, biology, ecology, environmental policy, civil and environmental engineering, marine science, and geological science. The summer cohort participates in weekly research and professional development seminars along with group field exercises. Topics include graduate school, career preparation, research ethics, sustainability, global change, environmental justice, and research communication. These activities plus the student’s individual research comprise a portfolio that culminates in a reflection essay integrating the concepts, methods, and perspectives gained over the 10-week program. Program alumni were surveyed in 2014 to gauge long-term impact and outcomes. Of the 76 surveyed from 2006-2013, 39% responded. 67% have earned or are working on a graduate degree, and 94% of the graduate programs are in STEM. 93% of the responding alumni felt that the program “influenced my job and educational choices” and 97% felt that the program “helped me better understand scientific research.” 40% presented their findings at a conference and 17% authored or co-authored a peer-reviewed publication. This presentation will include a discussion of best practices and lessons learned over twelve years, such as strategies to increase cohort diversity, innovative activities, and results from long-term program evaluation on attitudes toward STEM careers and program outcomes.