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Clarkson's Successful Research Program in China Receives Renewed Funding from National Science Foundation
[A photograph is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/reu-china.jpg]
Each summer, 15 top students from U.S. universities across the country are selected to travel to China to spend 10 weeks working closely with Chinese scientists and graduate students on research projects related to marine science and engineering.
Initially launched in 2000, the program is administered through Clarkson University and is part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), which supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the NSF.
Clarkson’s REU in China program has been renewed for funding by the NSF for another three years. By 2008, the program will have received some $1.3 million in funding.
“We are very pleased that our program has been renewed,” said Hung Tao Shen, professor of civil & environmental engineering at Clarkson. “It is a clear indication of the high quality of the program itself and the exceptional quality of the students’ completed research.”
Shen, along with his colleague and wife Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Hayley Shen, directs the program in cooperation with Dalian University of Technology and Ocean University of Qingdao.
“Ours was the first undergraduate research program in China to be funded by the NSF,” Hung Tao Shen explained. “It is also the largest program sponsored by the NSF’s International Office and involves the highest number of undergraduate participants. To date 75 students from more than 30 U.S. colleges and universities including Clarkson have participated. It is also clear that the experience has had a high impact on participants: Twenty have gone on to further study abroad, nine students have returned to China for graduate work, and eight have earned competitive national fellowships.”
Admission to the program is highly competitive. Once in China, each student is assigned a faculty mentor and graduate student colleague and must complete an independent research project related to marine science or engineering. The student researchers work in the field and in laboratories equipped with sophisticated instrumentation. The participants must also write and submit a research report and participate in group research meetings.
Providing opportunities for participants to experience Chinese culture and life outside of the laboratory is an important feature of the program. Students participate in social activities, visit historical and cultural sites and local pre-college schools. “The students have a unique opportunity to work on valuable, high-tech research with distinguished scientists within a culture and educational system very different from their own,” explains Hayley Shen. “Participants must be highly motivated and open to new ideas, new challenges and new ways of solving problems.”
The program has received high marks from the student participants.
“One of the greatest lessons I learned is that culture plays such a large role in what we do and how we approach things, even research methodology varies with culture,” said Clarkson senior Halimatu Mohammed who spent 10 weeks as part of a five-person research team at Dalian University of Technology during the summer of 2004. “The experience has changed the way I look at things and I’ve definitely learned how to deal more easily with people from very different cultures than mine. I can look at things from their perspective. I also made long-lasting friendships there.”
Margaret Knuth, a two-time veteran of the REU in China program, also found the time in China to be worthwhile professionally as well as personally.
“The first time I participated was in 2002 when I was an undergraduate at the University of Miami,” recalled Margaret Knuth, now a graduate student in civil & environmental engineering at Clarkson. “I was at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao researching the dynamic interaction of ice and ocean in the Bohai Sea. We used computer simulations to understand how ice cover can and does change the ocean and vice versa. It was a great opportunity to develop analytical and technical skills and to enhance my professional credentials for further study.”
Knuth returned to China as a graduate student in 2004 to work with the Shens to facilitate the program. This time she went to Dalian University of Technology and worked with another REU student, an undergraduate from Yale, on laboratory experiments of the drift of small objects in a wave field.
“Both of the schools are located in cities of more than five million people so there was always plenty to do,” she explained. “We visited the beach, went shopping, and even out dancing some nights. Personally the greatest reward and challenge was to meet students who were so similar to me, but at the same time so different.”
Professor Hayley Shen concurs. “Overall, the program provides a crash course in acculturation. It also enables students to enhance their research abilities and develop their capabilities to participate in international scientific and engineering activities. For many, this research in an international setting becomes pivotal to their academic and personal growth.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Clarkson University senior Halimatu Mohammed (right) and one of her student co-researchers from Dalian University of Technology in China. Mohammed spent 10 weeks the summer before her junior year participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) – China program in marine science and engineering. The highly successful program administered through Clarkson has been renewed for funding by the National Science Foundation for another three years. By 2008, Clarkson’s REU-China program will have received some $1.3 million in funding.