STEM majors do original research

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MESA Center tutors are available to help students create proposals for summer 2014.

By Neven Jones

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Five groups presented Summer Undergraduate Research projects Sept. 17 at the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, or MESA, Center.

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program at this college is unique because it gives students the opportunity to do original research.

“Most of the time original research isn’t being done until you are in graduate school,” said Analisa Garza, coordinator for the MESA Center.

Engineering Coordinator Dan G. Dimitriu said in other community college research programs, students typically go to four-year institutions and observe graduate students instead of conducting their own research.

“They might wash dishes or clean lab equipment, but it’s not research,” Dimitriu said.

Dimitriu believes it is important for students to be involved in their own projects from start to finish so he started the Undergraduate Research Program at this college in 2010.

The program got its funding from a NASA Curriculum Improvement Partnership Award for Integration of Research, or CIPAIR, grant. This college was awarded with the University of Texas San Antonio.

Dimitriu put together a group of advisers with various STEM degrees to assist students.

The advisers help students but cannot get involved in the research.

The students come up with their own projects, then research, develop and test the projects over a 10-week period.

Students are compensated $7.33 per hour, with a maximum of $1,100.

They are expected to work on their projects for 10–15 hours per week and are paid for 150 hours of work upon completion and submission of their final report.

Students do not receive college credit for their work; Garza would like to see that change.

One group of students created an electrical subsystem for a solar panel electrical cart.

The goal of the project was to research, design, test and assemble all the electrical components required for a solar-powered vehicle to function.

A future undergraduate research team will design the chassis for the solar-powered electrical cart that will use their electrical components.

The team who worked on this project consisted of mechanical engineering sophomores Juan De Luna and Andres Favela and civil engineering sophomores Celeste Trujillo and Esteban Riojas.

The students worked with a $1,000 budget and had to find their own vendors.

Riojas recommends students start finding an approved vendor early.

“You want to get an approved vendor right away so you can right away start the project,” Riojas said.

The second group focused on geological sciences.

Geology sophomores Robert Salinas and William Ingraham worked on this project with Reuben Uribe, a junior at Colorado School of Mines.

The goal of their research was to study the correlation between topsoil and vegetation to determine the parent rock because the current tools being used to do so are expensive and intrusive.

They looked for outcrops to study at parks, roadsides and a friend’s property.

Garza said the team is looking into publishing their research in an undergraduate publication.

The third group studied atmospheric entry with one-axis control at NASA.

The goal is to further develop an emergency protocol for re-entry issues when returning from space missions.

The team consisted of Erica Zeelenberg, engineering and mathematics sophomore, engineering sophomores Jaysiel Garcia, Marisol Ordaz, Jacob Prado and Alexander Rivera.

A second NASA team also presented Sept. 17.

Their team studied water bending in microgravity.

The objective is to investigate what happens when a stream of water is intersected by sound or sine waves in microgravity.

The team members were: mathematics sophomore Thaddeus Brickley and engineering sophomores Darcy Stephens, Emma Garcia, Vernon Lymus and Sarah Ihle.

Former biology student Emily Gallios also presented on her team’s behalf since she was unable to present last summer.

Her team studied a recirculated water-cooled photovoltaic solar module.

Student researchers are encouraged to look at previous research and continue where others left off or come up with their own idea.

Garza would love to see students in STEM disciplines work together.

“Maybe a biologist with a physicist and an engineer. They could do really cool environmental type research,” Garza said.

All STEM opportunities are announced on the MESA OrgSync page, which currently has 274 members.

Garza recommends students interested in the Summer Undergraduate Research Project start early.

The summer projects are announced in the spring.

If students know they will be here in the spring, she suggests they start thinking of an idea, and get three to four students together so in the spring it will be easier to create a proposal.

The students can ask any of the tutors at the MESA Center for help in filling out the proposals.

Proposal guidelines can be found at http://www.alamo.edu/sac/MESA/ under the student resources tab. This is free and open to STEM students.

For more information, call Garza at 210-486-0085.

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