Professors and Undergraduates Benefit From NSF Funding

With papers to grade and reports to write, when is there time for research? Both professors and students manage many responsibilities throughout the school year. Computer science professor Xioajun Qi received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) that allowed her to accomplish her role as a professor and provide research opportunities for undergraduate students.

“The REU funding was a great incentive for me to complete research for publications, and it was an opportunity for students to work and interact with one another in their field of study,” Qi said.

The NSF offers two types of REU funding: supplemental and site funding. Qi received REU site funding for three summers, which included financial assistance for an 8 to 10 week summer program and a living stipend for students.

“I usually had about 10 undergraduate students who were recruited from USU and other schools throughout the United States,” said Qi.

Utah State students not only participate in REU sites on their home campus but travel to other campuses for such experiences. Junior bioengineering student Rachel Simmons attended a REU site program this summer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“Cornell was great,” Simmons said. “I was able to network with other professors and learn more about graduate school.”

The REU site funding also exposes students to their fields of study from a scientist’s perspective.

“My REU experience at Dartmouth University solidified my direction as a physicist and made me realize what it really means to be a scientist,” said Jennifer Albretsen Roth, former REU and senior physics student.

Utah State University encourages undergraduates to participate in as many research opportunities as possible. USU’s Vice President for Research Office guided Simmons to her REU experiences at Cornell University.

“With the help of Dr. Kinkead, Associate V.P. for Undergraduate Research, I was able to find a program that exposed me to a new side of research in bioengineering.”

The NSF strongly encourages professors to recruit underrepresented minorities and students from other institutions.

“It was hard to compete with other institutions for recruitment and find minorities for participants but the results for both me and the students were worth it,” Qi said.

Professors that receive REU funding are also expected to produce publications as a result of the REU site program.

The NSF also provides funding for the REU supplement program. Typically, the REU supplement provides support for one or two undergraduate students to participate in research as part of a new or ongoing NSF-funded research project. Applying for a REU supplement involves writing a brief one-page proposal including the research project’s objectives and the student’s intended impact. A simple budget must be submitted as well.

Undergraduates with a junior or senior level standing who are committed to a major in science or engineering generally participate in the supplement program. Justin Berger was hired on a REU supplement grant to develop tools for publishing environmental observations on the Internet, part of Utah State’s Water Initiative. Working with mentors from the Utah Water Research Lab, Jeff Horsburgh and David Tarboton, Berger presented his results at the 2008 Research on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City.

REU site and supplement funding expose students to a wide range of skills and technical abilities. These hands-on experiences better prepare students for their futures.

“Not only was I able to learn new concepts and explore new ideas to solve problems, but I was able to develop technical skills which will be useful in a variety of projects in my future,” said Christopher Hall former REU student. “I think of the REU program as an investment from which I will continue to see many returns.”

Deadlines to apply for supplement funding vary throughout the year. Several professors at USU have applied and received REU funding for students.

“These REU grants are important to Utah State University, and the supplements are relatively easy to apply for and win,” said Brent Miller Vice President for Research. “We would encourage faculty to consider this REU addition to their NSF research grants, it enhances our already fine Undergraduate Research Program.”

To learn more about the REU funding, visit the NSF website at