Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE)
This program is a part of an NSF funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in Solar and Space Physics, funding a base of eight students per year and leveraging funds from the SORCE mission and other research contracts and grants to fund additional students each year. For the upcoming year, seventeen students have been selected from nearly 170 applicants to the program. Three SORCE students are placed with researchers at LASP to conduct the eight-week program each year. The first week of the program consists of a summer school with scientist lectures, networking opportunities, and hands-on inquiry based activities incorporated within at least four of the days. All students conduct six weeks of authentic research working with a scientist mentor team, and SORCE students use data from the mission. The last week of the program is devoted to student research presentations and a poster session attended by professional members of the Boulder Solar Alliance. This program gives students an opportunity to conduct real, near-graduate-level research using authentic data, and provides a stepping stone to graduate school, specifically in Solar and Space Physics. A survey of graduate students conducted by the Education and Workforce Working Group, carried out as a part of the National Research Council 2013 Decadal Survey in Solar and Space Physics, indicated 80% (N=125) identified undergraduate research opportunities as being a critical factor in their decision to attend graduate school, and 50% indicated that they had conducted research as an undergraduate that directly led to their current graduate studies. Two programs were specifically praised, and our program was one of the two.
NSF REU Site – The three students funded by NASA’s SORCE project participate in an NSF-funded program. They get the benefit of the administrative costs being paid by the REU program, access to the week of summer school, and student presentations at the end-of-program student symposium.
Effectiveness and Impact
Our program uses a student survey originally developed by Dr. Emily CoBabe-Ammann, and modified by Erin Wood and Dr. Marty Snow in subsequent years, which uses a Likert-type scale to identify self-reported gains by the student, and open-ended response questions. Students are also encouraged to write an open-ended “letter to your mentor” (that is not viewed by the mentors) to further identify any difficulty the student may have encountered with the project or program as a whole. We evaluate the students at the end of the program, and then track students three years after the program to access the efficacy of our program overall using a Likert-type scale Survey Monkey survey developed by Dr. Marty Snow and Erin Wood.
This program has been going on since 2007. The 2007 and 2008 students were evaluated, and we are still in the process of evaluating the 2009 students. Results are below for 2007 and 2008 (N= 31 of 33 solicited for response, 5= Strongly Agree, 4= Agree, 3= Neutral, 2= Disagree, 1= Strongly Disagree).
The SORCE students cannot be specifically identified from the rest of the student population.
The SORCE students cannot be teased out of the evaluation results specifically.
- Awareness/Knowledge: Students are made aware of careers in the space sciences. 81% of students surveyed are made aware of research opportunities previously unavailable to them. Students gain knowledge of authentic research and demonstrate this knowledge during the culminating activities of the program (the presentation and poster session). Engagement/Interest: 94% of students surveyed made career or academic choices based on the experiences in this REU program.
- Attitude: Some students report that they plan to go to graduate school when they were previously not planning to do so. Many report that they previously were unconfident in their abilities to do research, and this attitude changed by the end of the program. Behavior: The desired behavior is that students go on to graduate school in the specific field or, barring that, a similar STEM field. 96% of the students have gone on to graduate school in related fields.
- Skills: Most students report learning how to research and computer program were invaluable skills gained from this REU program.
Here are a few selected responses to the question, “What aspect of the REU program was most helpful to you? (first week of lectures, research/computer skills, presentation skills, networking, etc.)”:
- Student #4: Research/computer skills were the most useful component of this REU. I learned how to use Linux at a proficient level, which helped me with later computer science research. I also fine-tuned my formal research presentation skills.
- Student #6: The first week of lectures was fantastic. I got an entire course in space physics that I never would have had otherwise.
- Student #9: Research/computer programming practice. Working for an advisor for the first time. Reading literature. Working as a team on a research project
- Student #10: I thought that the first week of lectures was very interesting and helpful. I had very little background in space weather when I entered the program (unless you count the huge number of science fiction novels I had read by that point) and the lectures were very effective in bringing me up to speed in a short amount of time. In addition, using IDL as part of my project was a great learning experience. The programming experience I obtained has been invaluable in both my academic and professional careers.
- Student #11: Research/ computer skills. I was able to gain valuable experience using the IDL language and a Unix environment. I had never used either of these before and it was a great learning experience. The first week of lectures was also helpful and gave me a broad understanding of many topics. It was very interesting.
- Student #12: The research/computer skills were quite helpful. The fact I know IDL and have done an REU influenced the projects I was assigned through the STAR pre-service teacher internship program.
- Student #14: Getting hands on experience with space craft hardware got me hooked. The REU experience helped set my career goals, and it put me in touch with those who could help me achieve them.
- Student #15: I loved the first week of lectures, I was a physics and astronomy student in my undergrad and those lectures were really my first exposure to space physics. I learned IDL that summer which I still use today. I got to know and became friends with two people who went to Michigan at the time and convinced me to include it in the list of schools I was considering for graduate school. This REU got me into talking to Tom Cravens at my undergrad and I work for him for my last year of undergrad, he had worked at Michigan for 15 yrs before coming to Kansas and told me much more about the strengths of the AOSS department at Michigan. The LASP REU was my first poster presentation experience, I still use the same poster template today. :) This REU really changed my idea of what I wanted to do with my life, because of it I switch from interests in Astronomy and Geology to Space and Upper atmospheric physics.
- Student #17: My attendance of the REU program was the sole reason I received funding when I entered grad school. There was one professor (Dr. Niescja Turner) who had funding available and it just so happens that she specializes in space weather. Since I was the only applicant with a space weather REU under my belt she picked me to be her student. I would say that simply being an REU devoted to solar physics and space weather was the most helpful aspect. Also, since I was funded and did not have to pay for grad school I actually ended up gaining money from my time as a masters student. This excess of funds allowed me to afford to travel to Europe this past winter. Therefore, I can honestly say that my employment at LASP and participation in the REU eventually allowed me to sled down the Alps and see the crown jewels.
- Student #20: The research and presentation skills I learned through the REU were definitely very helpful and have carried through to other projects I've worked on since.
- Student #23: The most helpful thing for me from the REU was the research itself. Doing it everyday for a long period of time made me realize that not only that I could do it, but also that I enjoyed it and wanted to do it for a career.