For a student applying for a graduate or professional program, having research experience outside of regular coursework could make all the difference for acceptance. Recent Pearl River graduate Mia Missimer spent her summer at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus gaining valuable research experience.
The intensive, 10-week summer program is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Unlike many typical summer jobs, the participants are trained, mentored and given research opportunities that will prepare them for graduate studies or careers in engineering and science.
Missimer was an active participant in the PRCC STEM Club. It was here that she heard about a fellow PRCC student with an internship opportunity in the sciences. That bit of information led her to consider what she could do one summer.
The STEM Club seeks to inspire, engage, strengthen, and develop our student’s skills in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Advisors help students with networking as well as educate them on the importance of gaining hands-on experience outside of lab classes.
Biology instructor Melinda Miller serves as an advisor for the STEM Club. She recommends students find outside research experiences so they can experience the entire process of going from an idea, to planning and carrying out the research, and then evaluating what is learned.
“Being part of an undergraduate research program allows students to be mentored through the process,” said Miller. “Additionally, many graduate and professional schools have an internship section on the application.
“Prior research experience is now the expectation, not the exception.”
For FAU’s approach, the students are presented with science and engineering challenges related to the environmentally friendly creation of electricity from marine renewable energy resources. The research focuses on three technical challenges associated with harnessing this and other marine renewable energy resources: resource assessment, system design and operation, and environmental impacts.
Missimer was on the team working with Dr. Jeanette Wyneken, whose research area focuses on how organisms interact with their environments.
The team’s summer project involved studying the diving behavior of juvenile leatherback sea turtles. This included raising them in captivity and then testing diving capabilities in the open ocean after utilizing hyperbaric medicine to acclimate them to changing water pressure.
“My part of the study entailed the biomechanics of shells,” said Missimer. “We cleaned and tested shells for strength. The goal is to determine whether the turtles would be safe if they collide with an underwater turbine.”
These studies are important since leatherbacks are a protected species with potential interaction with ocean technologies in southern Florida. Learning more about their behaviors could help future ocean energy technology development to be more mechanically friendly.
“I found this to be an extremely worthwhile opportunity,” said Missimer. “I had a fun time while learning more about turtle biology and the importance of considering the environment impact of renewable energy options. Now I look forward to beginning my studies in landscape architecture and construction at Mississippi State University.”
FAU’s summer research program is just one of many opportunities offered around the country. PRCC students are encouraged to talk with their advisors about other paths to gain experience in their chosen field. REU sites funded by the NSF are grouped by discipline at https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp.