SURF fellow Elvira Hernandez Lopez (left) spent her summer immersed in hands-on Scripps Research.
Lighting a Spark for Science
Underrepresented students gain valuable hands-on research experience at
Scripps through summer programs
Start early. Practice, practice, practice. It’s a routine
that works for developing skills from mastering a language to excelling at
athletics. When it comes to flexing our science muscles, the same regimen applies.
The earlier a student is introduced to science and research,
the more equipped he or she is to pursue a scientific career path. However, not
all students receive equal exposure or encouragement to pursue the sciences, a lapse
in the system that impairs America’s economic strength in the long run.
report by the National Academies entitled Expanding
Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology
Talent at the Crossroads found that while African Americans, Native
Americans, and Hispanics comprise 28.5 percent of the U.S. population, they
represent only 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in the science and
To help bridge the gap, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
at UC San Diego engages students at the high school and undergraduate levels in
hands-on research experiences in ocean, earth, and climate science. These
rigorous summer programs introduce high-achieving students from diverse
backgrounds to exciting research at Scripps. For many it is their first
exposure to the kind of science they may want to explore through their college
major or in a Ph.D program one day.
SURF student Jesse Andrews conducted research at sea onboard R/V Melville this summer.
One such program, the Scripps Undergraduate Research
Fellowship (SURF) is a competitively awarded 10-week summer internship, designed
to engage students in a wide range of exciting earth, ocean and atmospheric
sciences research at Scripps by providing hands-on laboratory and field
experience. In particular, the SURF program, supported by the National Science
Foundation, seeks to increase the diversity of students successfully prepared
to pursue earth and ocean science career pathways and to recruit individuals
from institutions with limited undergraduate research opportunities.
This summer, SURF student Jesse Andrews of Morehouse College
in Atlanta, Ga., had the rare opportunity to spend 10 days of his summer fellowship
at sea aboard Scripps research vessel Melville
during the San Diego Coastal Expedition. He and two other SURF students lived and worked alongside
Scripps graduate student mentors who taught them real-world lessons from safety
at sea to deploying advanced ocean instruments and analyzing freshly collected samples
in the lab.
“As I reflect I must do so with appreciation and
gratefulness for such an opportunity,” said Andrews of his first research experience
at sea. “I am quite proud of myself and this achievement will be the highlight
of my life for years to come.”
A similar summer program, Focus on the Future, introduces underrepresented
high school students and teachers from Compton and San Diego to Scripps science
during a three-week intensive residential learning experience. Now in its third
year, the program has introduced more than 50 minority students to the academic
research environment, an important cultivation tool in recruiting the next
generation of leaders in science and technology.
Outside of these programs, dozens
more undergraduate interns from across the nation participate in Scripps labs each
summer for hands-on research experience, especially within the Marine Physical
Laboratory and as part of the California Current Ecosystem Long Term Ecological
Scripps Director Tony Haymet visited with former Focus on the Future students at Compton High School in April 2012. Alexandra Garcia (second from right) is starting college at UC San Diego in the fall.
"At Scripps Oceanography we embrace the
importance of diversity,” said Scripps Director Tony Haymet. “The variety of
personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of
culture and circumstance strengthens the institution and our mission.
Through intense immersion in lab activities and college prep
workshops, many summer students gain a new passion and spark for science that ignites
their career ambitions. UC San Diego undergraduate student Elvira Hernandez
Lopez, a SURF student who joined Jesse Andrews aboard R/V Melville, hinted at her hopes to become a future Scripps graduate
“This experience made me realize that I made the right
career choice. You know that saying ‘if you love what you do, you’ll never have
to work a day in your life?’ That is exactly how I feel about this,” she wrote
in a blog about her time at sea. “Who knows, one day I might get a chance to
come back to the Melville, and
hopefully not as an undergrad…but I’ll leave it there, I don’t want to jinx
August 7, 2012