A cohort of ten motivated undergraduate students arrived at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa recently to participate in a summer research internship, Earth Science on Volcanic Islands, hosted by the SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics. The opportunity, funded for three years by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, seeks to increase participation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce by underrepresented groups.
“In practice, what this means is we find highly qualified students for whom participation in this program will have the biggest impact,” said Paul Wessel, director of the program and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. “After sorting through over 350 applicants we are very pleased with this year’s cohort; it is a great group.”
Students are assigned to work with faculty throughout the school—with mentors from the geology and geophysics and oceanography departments as well as Hawai‘i Institute for Geophysics and Planetology—for nine weeks. The internship program takes advantage of the unique tropical volcanic island and surrounding marine environments in Hawaiʻi, which are found nowhere else in the country.
Participants will conduct a wide range of original research, including studies of active and inactive Hawaiian volcanoes, environmental science in tropical watersheds and coastal environments, effect of ground water discharge on corals, mapping and modeling of Earth processes, and much more.
Led by geology faculty, the cohort began the program with a two-day field trip to the Big Island of Hawai‘i. They will also participate in an expedition on the UH Mānoa research vessel Kilo Moana for three days, mapping the seafloor and collecting remotely-sensed geophysical data as well as physical samples from the seafloor and water column near Kaena ridge west of Oahu.
Wessel was a mentor in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the UH Mānoa Department of Oceanography hosted similar NSF-funded programs. He has seen first-hand the success of these engaging programs and has high hopes for the impact the program will make this year.
“Being part of a cohort going through the same thrills and challenges as a group provides strong support and is typically one of the aspects of the program that students really enjoy,” he said. “The hands-on projects combined with the one-on-one mentoring gives students a sneak preview of what graduate school is like, and most of our REU students become highly motivated to pursue that route”.