Summer Research Program Boosts Confidence, Shapes Careers

640 480 Stroud Water Research Center

“Hydrosphere! Lithosphere! Atmosphere! Biosphere!” students and teachers shouted during orientation for this summer’s Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) Research Experience for Undergraduates and Teachers (REU/RET). As a means to understand each day’s lessons, interns were asked to connect each of Earth’s four spheres to understand what the Critical Zone is all about.

The Critical Zone, loosely described as where rock meets life, extends from the tops of trees into the depths of groundwater.

A Nine-Week Journey

For nine weeks, 12 undergraduates and four teachers from across the United States embarked on a journey to study the Critical Zone and immerse themselves in science and research at the Christina River basin CZO site with Stroud™ Water Research Center and at the Susquehanna Shale Hills CZO site with Penn State University.

“We had an incredible group of very motivated and enthusiastic students and teachers this year,” said Tara Muenz, education programs manager for the Stroud Center and the REU/RET program coordinator.

“It was great to see them progress through the summer — especially to see their presentations at our end of the summer symposium.”

From Bacteria to Bugs

Working alongside CZO scientists, the interns examined everything from bacteria strains to soil ages and root growth to aquatic bugs. Through field work, data interpretation and reporting results, each day provided another opportunity to learn what makes successful or not-so-successful research.

The interns gave poster and oral presentations during a public event, held at Stroud Center on August 11. They also attended the 100th anniversary of the Ecological Society of America’s conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

This is the second of a three-year grant, funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with Penn State University and the University of Delaware. Dave Arscott, Ph.D., Melinda Daniels, Ph.D., and Jinjun Kan, Ph.D., served as Stroud Center scientist advisors. Anthony Aufdenkampe, Ph.D., is the principal investigator for the Christina River basin CZO.

In Their Own Words

Here are just a few of the comments we received from the 2015 CZO REU/RET participants:

“Honestly, this was one of the best summers of my life. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I would stop and think, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.’”

“It was so exciting to finally be working on a real project, to really be looking for answers to whole new problems.”

“It instilled in me a much greater confidence, as a woman in science, that I am capable of carrying out my own independent research.”

“The REU experience was invaluable! The things I have learned will definitely aid my research career in the future.”

Where are they now? Read 2014 REU Participant to Research Climate Change Using Ice Cores.