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Summer Engineering Research Program Paves the Path to a Bachelor Degree

Thursday, March 7, 2019

WELLESLEY HILLS, Mass. (March 7, 2019) – It might not feel like summer outside, but students interested in summer research programs should be checking application deadlines and apply now to get into selective programs. MassBay students have had great success in summer research programs, like Christian Hardy and Gustaf Njei, who participated in and conducted their REU-POWER Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student presentations at Northeastern University. It was the culmination of a summer of hard and exciting work in the field of energy research, and the beginning of their futures with Northeastern University.

The National Science Foundation supported the REU-POWER Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program (NSF Grant #1757650), and the program was created by Northeastern University to provide underrepresented minority students with an innovative learning experience to help students gain opportunities and participate in higher-level interdisciplinary research in energy. Students take part in summer-long research projects in which they work on teams, participate in workshops, learn about proposal writing, and other activities. The REU program ends with the students presenting their research in a summer research symposium, as Christian and Gustaf did.

Christian, a California native who is currently a Medford resident, graduated from MassBay in 2018 with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Every professor I met actually cared,” he says, “They want you to succeed, and provide you with the right resources.” Christian found out about the REU program from Marina Bograd, a professor and Chair of the Engineering Department at MassBay. “I didn’t know what to expect or what I’d be doing.” His research project under the direction of Northeastern University Professor, Michael Kane, turned out to be building a thermostat and running software to determine how to prevent thermostats from using too much energy. For him, the experience was an exercise in independence. “The professor and I touched base each week, but it was mostly hands-off,” he says, “I liked that I got to be independent. I got to learn on my own without anyone holding my hand.” Christian says the experience demystified higher-level research for him, and he is now continuing his research at Northeastern University, where he is pursuing his Bachelor degree.

Gustaf is a resident of Framingham and native of Bamenda, Cameroon, who transferred from MassBay to Northeastern University in early 2018 through support from the NSF S-STEM S-POWER scholarship offered through Northeastern University (NSF #1564653). “The thing I liked about MassBay is how the professors push you extremely hard to succeed,” he says. Gustaf also greatly enjoyed being on the soccer team, of which he was the captain. Like Christian, he heard about the REU program from Professor Bograd. “I wanted to get a feel for how tasks are carried out and accomplished in my field.” The program was Gustaf’s first internship, and he was glad to get the experience. For his research project, under the direction of Northeastern University Professor Ali Abur, he built a graphical user interface using MATLAB software and wrote scripts that assign the interface to perform various tasks. Like Christian, he largely worked independently, researching and accomplishing tasks on his own. “I only asked for help when I had tried multiple times on my own, and before I could get help I had to show what I had done and where I was wrong.” He had never used MATLAB before, and essentially taught himself the program from scratch. Despite how independent his project was, Gustaf made many valuable connections. “Being in the program was more of a networking experience for me because I realized at the end of the internship that I had made connections both with my student mentor and faculty advisor as well as some faculty members on campus.” Now that he is done with the program, Gustaf is looking forward to studying at Northeastern University. He plans to get involved in a related research program or internship once he is acclimated to city life.

Last summer was the first year of the REU POWER program at Northeastern, but MassBay students have participated in many REU programs at Northeastern University for a number of years. These programs are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and are an excellent opportunity for students to study, in the case of Gustaf and Christian, for no cost at both MassBay and Northeastern University. MassBay students have also applied to the upcoming summer REU opportunities and are waiting to hear back.

Professor and Chair of the Engineering Department, Marina Bograd, has seen firsthand how good the REU program is for MassBay students. “The hands-on research exposure and education that students get through the program is invaluable. Our students are mentored by students who are already seeking advanced degrees, who can share their educational experiences. Some REU Program students form lasting connections with the research faculty and research assistants and continue working with them as they transition from the community college to the four-year institution. They are exposed to the life and opportunities that a major university can provide, making their future educational transition that much easier.”

The program effects the classmates of the participating students as well, when the students return from the program and encourage their friends to apply. “They share what it means to work in a lab, to work on a research project, and the work ethic and perseverance that is required,” adds Professor Bograd.

Students who wish to learn more about the REU Program and find one in their area can go to https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp.