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‘C-SURFers’ at CCU present summer of scientific research to the public

July 24, 2018
Students in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at CCU work with virtual reality technology during one of the seminars.Students in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at CCU took several social outings around the Myrtle Beach area to foster camaraderie.Students in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at CCU take a trip to Waites Island to perform research.

Eight students from universities across the United States have spent 10 weeks this summer at Coastal Carolina University in an intense fellowship program that involves research, professional development workshops and a culminating colloquium to present their work.

The colloquium will take place within the Academic and Office Building II on CCU’s campus on Friday, July 27, from 9 a.m. to noon, and it is free and open to the public to attend. View the colloquium agenda here.

The CCU Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (C-SURF, for short) are funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). For the second summer in a row, the departments of Coastal and Marine Systems Science and Computing Sciences at CCU teamed up to work with the research students.

“An REU program is a great vehicle for students to try working with their potential graduate thesis advisers,” said Sathish Kumar, assistant professor in the Department of Computing Sciences. “We have taken great care to train the students in professional development but to also provide a social support system with our graduate students to foster camaraderie.”

Each student is paired with a CCU graduate student mentor and a faculty adviser who has expertise in the area of the student’s research topic. Topics this year range from 3D landscaping to oceanography modeling.

The student participants are:

• Reagan Belk, a senior geoscience major from Mississippi State University

• Cassandra Chang, a senior computational and applied mathematics and statistics at the College of William and Mary

• Biraj Dahal, a junior computer science and mathematical sciences major from Clemson University

• Poushali Ghosh, a senior meteorology major from Millersville University

• William Lambert, a senior double major in mathematics and physics from Roanoke College

• Joshua Smith, a junior computer science major from Morgan State University

• Desirae Vess, a senior biology major from Columbia College

• T. Langston Wood, a junior computer science major at South Carolina State University

Each week, the eight students participate in a professional development workshop about a different topic, including technical writing, research ethics, peer editing, and making research posters.

They also participated in lunchtime seminars on topics like “Machine Learning in Informatics and Event Stream Processing” and “Marine Biogeochemistry in the Age of Big Data.”

Each aspect of the program combines to build real-world career skills and provide hands-on research experience, Kumar said. The students also develop solid computing skills, which are applicable in their future careers and in solving real-world problems.

The fellowship isn’t completely research and work, though. The fellows were able to experience the Myrtle Beach area with visits to a Pelicans baseball game, Huntington Beach State Park and a couple of miniature golf courses. The social engagements, Kumar said, help the C-SURFers interact with their graduate student and faculty mentors and encourage a team dynamic.

Kumar said the faculty benefit from the program, as well.

“Faculty advisers have the opportunity to test out new ideas, and the undergraduate may be able to assist with taking the research in a new direction,” he said. “The program gives faculty the opportunity to develop young scientists and help them find their niche in an academic area.”

Rising senior biology major at Columbia College Desirae Vess said the program has given her true insight into the world of academia and how science isn’t a solo venture.

“The program pushed me to reach beyond my comfort zone,” she said. “I could not rely on just myself to accomplish a task, but needed the help of both my adviser [Angelos Hannides] and mentor to complete my project.”

Vess will present her project, “Sedimentary Organic Matter Dynamics at a High-Energy Beach,” at the colloquium on Friday. Much of her field research took place at Waties Island.

While the main goal of the program since its inception in 2015 has remained focused on providing opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to improve real-world research and career skills, it is having far more impact than that.

Both Kumar and Varavut Limpasuvan are interested in investigating the synergies and gaps between geoscience and computer science, and the program has been a vehicle for those investigations. Limpasuvan, CCU professor in the Department of Coastal and Marine Systems Science, was involved in a similar program as an undergraduate student, and now sees his involvement as “a personal mission to train and help students realize their potential,” he said. “The program reaffirms the impact I can make as an educator beyond the classroom.”

Kumar said the grant is unique not only because of its focus on professional development and social support, but because of its effort to involve women and underrepresented minorities in the fields of geoscience and computer science, which he said are traditionally hampered by lack of diversity. He visited several colleges to talk to faculty and their students about the program, and that’s how Vess learned about the opportunity.

“The C-SURF team has worked to make sure we feel supported and know we have resources when we feel like we are struggling,” she said. “My project would not have been completed without their guidance!”

The $325,000 grant the professors received from the NSF, the first of its kind received at CCU, will fund the program for one more year, with possible continuation of the program thereafter. Learn more about the program here.

Additional information:

coastal.edu/cmss

coastal.edu/computing