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SDSU again funded for undergraduate research program

For the third consecutive time, the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering at South Dakota State University has been selected as a site for undergraduate research.

Steve Gent
Stephen Gent

Stephen Gent, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Jung-Han Kimn, an associate professor of mathematics, are the principal investigators for a grant of $400,730 to continue the Research Experience for Undergraduates at SDSU. The funds from the National Science Foundation cover April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2023.

An REU site program consists of a group of about 10 undergraduates per summer who work in the host institution’s research programs.

Jung Han Kimn
Jung Han Kimn

Since March 1, 2012, Gent and Kimn have been receiving the REU grants, which total $1,174,096.

“The lion’s share of the award is used to support undergraduate students while they are on our campus. The grant award provides each student with a stipend, meal allowance and on-campus housing. The award also provides support for students to travel to Brookings and then home at the end of the summer.

“In addition, the award provides financial support to REU students after the program to attend regional or national conferences to disseminate their research,” Gent said.

Attracts students nationwide
Participants are primarily freshmen and sophomores with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics major at a smaller college that has limited research opportunities in high-performance computing, which is the research focus at SDSU, Kimn said. To date, students have come from 17 states ranging from California to Massachusetts as well as South Dakota and neighboring states.

The 10-week program begins with highly structured learning by working with the University Network and Research Committee unit and the Division of Technology and Security as well as faculty advisers.

“As the summer progresses, each student team works on a project with their faculty and graduate mentors,” such as assessing corn yield variation using spatial field map data or analyzing gene expressions of grapes at varying maturities to evaluate the flavor of the wine produced from the grapes, Gent said.

It is not unheard of for REU sites to receive funding in multiple cycles, but it’s not typical either, he said.

“Funding agencies, especially the National Science Foundation, are interested in funding projects that are innovative, novel and address a critical need. REU sites are no exception. Most REU sites will operate for one or two three-year cycles and, if they do not remain current or cutting edge, they will find it difficult to continue,” Gent said.

Three reasons for success
He cites three reasons for SDSU’s repeated success.

No. 1—The SDSU team. “All of the faculty mentors, those at the University Network and Research Committee and the Division of Technology and Security as well as supporting staff are very committed to this project and students’ success,” Gent said.

No. 2—The site’s focus. “We focus on providing a real-world research experience for the participants with the goal of tangible outcomes. This is evident by having many of our REU students present their research at national conferences and have their work accepted for publication,” he said.

No. 3—The need. “We are addressing a critical need of engaging students in computing-focused research and showing the wide array of applied and theoretical research that can be achieved via high-performance computing,” Gent said.

Dividends also flow to the university.

What SDSU gains
Kimn said, “This program provides a conduit for attracting very bright and hardworking students from across the U.S. to experience SDSU firsthand. For a majority of participants, this is the first time they are in South Dakota, let alone SDSU. Since this REU Site began in 2012, SDSU has had not one, but two, of our students be awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. Both students participated in our REU site.

“We have had instances where our students have been engaged in HPC projects with national laboratories and have collaborated on projects with Los Alamos National Lab and the Argonne National Lab.”