Newswise — A multidisciplinary research team from the University of Illinois Chicago has been awarded a $3 million, three-year U.S. Department of Defense award to establish an undergraduate research mentoring program in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, areas with a focus on engaging undergraduate student veterans and minority students.

Of the 180 proposals submitted to the National Defense Education Program, UIC’s proposal was one of only 12 selected for funding. Supported programs encompass a broad range of efforts, from informal, community-based outreach efforts to K-12 curriculum development projects. The UIC program is the only one funded that will focus specifically on undergraduate research.

UIC’s initiative aims to prepare and engage students for potential technical careers in national defense. In addition, UIC researchers will evaluate the program’s effect on students’ GPAs, time to graduation, and choice of STEM careers or post-graduate school.

“Studies have shown that laboratory research experiences are strongly correlated with successful completion of an undergraduate degree and pursuit of scientific careers, and even more so for students from groups that are underrepresented in scientific and technical disciplines,” said the project’s principal investigator Russell Hemley, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Chair in the Natural Sciences and professor of physics and chemistry at UIC. “If successful, our program could become a blueprint for STEM undergraduate training at other diverse, public Research I universities.”

As part of the UIC program, 24 students will form an academic cohort and take part in an intensive, long-term experiential research training program. Students will be matched with academic mentors engaged in relevant research, and they will participate in a variety of group-wide enrichment activities, including visits from scientists working at Department of Defense laboratories.

“Our goal is to build a student community that will provide students with a sense of ownership of their research,” said Stephen Gramsch, coordinator and co-principal investigator, and UIC research professor in chemistry. “The unique aspect of this program is that it will provide long-term research experiences for students in which research will be a part of their daily lives during the academic year as well as the summers.”

The capstone of the program will be the placement of selected students in Department of Defense laboratory internships for 10 weeks between their junior and senior years.

The project’s other co-principal investigators are George Crabtree, director of the UIC Energy Initiative and distinguished professor of physics and electrical and mechanical engineering, and Mitra Dutta, UIC distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Mentors in the program include UIC faculty members and researchers Elizabeth Kocs, Fatemeh Khalili, Michael Stroscio, Jordi Cabana, Ksenija Glusac, George Papadantonakis, Donald Wink, Avia Rosenhouse-Dantsker, Lev Reyzin and Rigel Gjomemo.

Students interested in more information and applying for the program should contact Stephen Gramsch at [email protected].