Summer research programs provide experience for next generation of engineers and scientists | FIU News

Emilie Trenhs has spent her last two summers at Florida International University dissecting porcine hearts and studying the interaction of light on living organisms. It might seem a typical path for someone like Trenhs, who wants to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. But what’s remarkable is that she is a high school student.

Trenhs ― along with university undergraduate and graduate students, high school students and a few high school science and engineering teachers ― presented her work at the culminating event ― the 2nd Annual Summer Research Symposium for summer research participants in FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. The program is sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Student Success (CD-SSEC).

“This program is not just an academic exercise,” says Darryl Dickerson, PhD, director of Workforce Development for CELL MET, a program mentor and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “It’s an exercise that has the ability to change someone’s life. By opening our doors to a broader community, we give participants a better understanding of what it’s like to do high-quality research. In doing so, we hope to inspire a more diverse group to enter the field.”

Like Trenhs, Nya Martin also spent the last two summers in the lab. A junior at FIU, the biomedical engineering major is also part of the Florida Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Populations (FGLSAMP) and is a National Action Council for Minorities in Education (NACME) scholar. Summer research has helped her learn the intricacies of lab protocol and how to better perform literature searches.

“These are important skills in STEM and for graduate school,” explains Martin, who one day would like to create low-cost prosthetic devices for those in need. “When I started in the program, I was worried that I wasn’t qualified and that I didn’t know enough. But that is why we are here. My mentors have been great teachers.”

Both Trenhs and Martin came to the research program through the Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP) Engineering Research Center (ERC) program, a paid summer research experience funded by the National Science Foundation. PATHS UP is offered at FIU, Rice University, UCLA and lead institution Texas A&M University. Other participants came via CELL MET, STROBE, PRECISE, ASTERIX, WE-FOCUS and other programs that offer research opportunities in a variety of technological areas.

“These are high-achieving students,” says Andrew Green, associate director of CD-SSEC. “They have their own projects with deliverables. They attend lab meetings and work collaboratively. They also participate in workforce development, such as science communication skills, resume writing, diversity and inclusion workshops, and the art of applying to graduate school.”

This past summer, Martin worked with the CELL MET program. A student at Hialeah Gardens High School, she is also in the dual-enrollment Florida Action for Minorities in Engineering (FLAME) program at FIU.

“The summer experience is very beneficial because everyone here is invested in what they are doing, It’s a very professional atmosphere. When the people you are working with are passionate about what they are doing, you learn so much,” she says.

As president of her school’s Society of Women Engineers and Technology Student Association clubs, she also appreciates that her high school engineering teacher, Alex Garrido, has taken part in the teacher’s arm of the summer research experience multiple times.

“The high school teachers are doing full-fledged, hands-on research during the summer and learn more about how they can incorporate what they have learned into their classrooms,” Green says. FIU also engages with young South Florida students through Engineers on Wheels, which brings FIU engineering students into K-12 classrooms to expose children to STEM careers, and partners with local schools for other summer internship opportunities.

At the 2nd Annual Summer Research Symposium, attendees reviewed poster exhibits that displayed work ranging from medical device development to wireless power transfer systems. They also presented their own projects and answered questions from scholars, scientists and researchers.

The application process varies for the individual programs and is competitive. If you’re interested in participating, contact Green at agreen@fiu.edu.

— By Adrienne Sylver

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