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Today’s job market is quickly becoming the purest expression of survival of the fittest. In a difficult economy, many highly qualified applicants are maneuvering for relatively few available positions. College graduates need an edge—something that sets them apart from the competition—and graduate education is emerging as the most effective means of acquiring that edge.

The 2003 Summer Reserach Program students and faculty.
Through the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Summer Research Program, undergraduates are exposed to the benefits of research and graduate education. “The Summer Research Program provides an opportunity to expose undergraduate students to a research environment and learn about the expectations of a researcher,” said Stephanie G. Adams, director of the summer research program, assistant professor of industrial engineering and interim associate dean of graduate studies.

The program is a collaboration between several different campus programs including the Office of Graduate Studies SUROP, the Nebraska EPSCOR program, the Plant Genomics Center and a McNair Grant through the U.S. Department of Education. Students from across campus and throughout the country are invited to the University where they benefit from faculty-mentored research, a GRE preparation course and opportunities to present research findings at conferences. Participants also receive a stipend, travel costs and housing while on campus.

Top: Assistant Professor Anu Subramanian, Assistant Professor Steve Goddard Bottom: Assistant Professor David Swanson, and Professor Ram Bishu
In addition to the research they conduct during their eight weeks on campus, students attend weekly seminars covering career opportunities, the expectations of graduate students, the mentoring process, the graduate school application process, how to fund graduate school and effective resume building and writing. The program is a comprehensive approach to preparing students for graduate school and equipping them with the skills they need to navigate an increasingly competitive marketplace. Adams said, “Our primary focus is on creating a valuable research experience and strong mentoring relationships as well as offering life skills preparation.”

Several faculty members within the College of Engineering & Technology participated in the summer research program this year including Lance Perez, Steve Goddard, David Swanson, Anu Subramanian and Ram Bishu. “The most effective way to educate students about the opportunities in graduate engineering is to let them participate in research early in their career,” Perez said. “The students I worked with this summer evolved professionally as they realized the responsibilities of conducting research.”

Under the guidance of faculty mentors, engineering students worked on a wide range of projects ranging from the use of Bluetooth wireless communications for sensor networks and assistive technology to implementing a tile wall display, then testing rendering efficiencies. “The students in this program are very bright and could become future leaders in our communities,” Goddard said. “Programs like the summer research program provide students with skills that enable them to compete on equal footing with their peers.”

Florentino Maldonado, a junior majoring in industrial engineering at the University of Michigan, came to UNL to research productivity and performance issues with intra-vehicular space tasks. “My research this summer was extremely rewarding,” Maldonado said. “Before this summer, I had never really considered attending graduate school but now I plan to be in school for many years to come.” For others, the program reinforced their desire to attend graduate school. “Although I had already had plans to attend graduate school, the summer research program showed me what to expect as a grad student and what career paths are available to me with a graduate degree,” said Bode Alabi, a junior majoring in electrical engineering at UNL.

Florentino Maldonado displays his reasearch project.
As with any such program, there are challenges. Not every student can be reached, and some simply don’t believe they have what it takes to attend graduate school. Other students don’t have all the tools they need to fully participate in research, and all must rationalize losing a significant portion of their summer to what may seem like drudge work. “It was difficult getting students to understand that they were investing their time and energy in themselves; that the work they were doing wasn’t busy work,” Adams said.The Summer Research Program will continue to evolve and reach a broader spectrum of undergraduate students who don’t traditionally consider the opportunities available within graduate education. “The most fulfilling aspect of this program is when students finally get it,” said Adams. “Whether it’s when they leave here or months later, I enjoy seeing their excitement when they realize they can attend graduate school and succeed doing it. It has also been gratifying to see so many of the participants considering Nebraska as a destination for pursuing their graduate education.”