The REU Site Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Akron, a.k.a. UAkron-REU, is a nurturing academic environment for undergraduate exploration, education and research in science and engineering of polymeric materials, including its scientific challenges and future opportunities. Each year 10 NSF-funded undergraduate students from all over the country participate in the program where they gain practical, hands-on research experience in a fundamental aspect of polymer science or engineering. Summer interns choose the scientific area of their interest from among the many fields currently being pursued by the research faculties. The current scientific areas include: Polymer Chemistry, Physics, and Engineering, and Biomaterials. Summer interns have access to research equipment to carry out their projects. Moreover, extensive mentoring efforts are in place to help the interns develop as scientists and engineers.
The summer program also has a rich educational component. Activities designed to provide perspective about future educational and career opportunities are integrated with mentored research activities including a one-week series of two-hour lectures about the fundamentals of polymer science and engineering, and a professional development series featuring panel discussions on career directions, ethics, and GRE preparation. In addition the interns organize: a faculty seminar series; Friday gatherings to discuss research progress; visits to various regional companies, government laboratories and local hospitals; and give an oral or poster presentation of research results at the Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Research Conference which is held in collaboration with Case Western Reserve University, Kent State University and NASA Glenn Research Center.
(UAkron-REU) was to expose thirty NSF-funded undergraduate students to the multidisciplinary fields of Polymer Science, Polymer Engineering, and Polymer-related Biomaterials through a 12-week summer internship program. The program featured a practical, hands-on research experience in a fundamental aspect of Polymer Science, Polymer Engineering, or Polymer-related Biomaterials; a one-week series of two-hour lectures on the fundamentals of Polymer Science, Polymer Engineering, and Polymer-related Biomaterials; a professional development series featuring panel discussions on career directions (academic careers, industrial careers, government or non-profit laboratory careers, and non-traditional careers), ethics, and preparing for graduate school; a faculty seminar series; weekly gatherings of the interns to discuss research progress; visits to the Calhoun Laboratory at the Akron General Medical Center, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, The Lubrizol Corporation, Bridgestone Americas, and NASA Glenn Research Center; and culminated in an oral and/or poster presentation of their research results at the Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Research Conference, which was hosted by Kent State University in 2010, the Ohio Aerospace Institute in 2011 and The University of Akron in 2012. Over the three year period of NSF support, our program showed continuous improvement towards a diverse and well-balanced group. The interns came from colleges and universities in Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, Michigan, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Vermont, Maryland, Georgia, and Montana. The students were majoring in Mathematics, Plastics Engineering, Computer Engineering, Biological Engineering, Biology, Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, Forensic Science, Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering. In terms of race and gender, the 2012 group of interns was made of 53% Whites, 23% African Americans, 12% Hispanics and 12% Asians. In terms of gender, the program had 53% males and 47% females. Twenty six faculties mentored the students. The research done by the interns was at the frontier of Polymer Science, Polymer Engineering, and Polymer-related Biomaterials. All interns carried out their own research projects by themselves under the supervision of a faculty member, post-doctoral research associate or graduate student. Some scientific/engineering areas of research were: Physics of glassy materials, Synthesis of advanced macromolecules, Synthesis of quantum dots, Gels for Tissue Engineering, Modification of biodegradable polymers, Synthesis of materials for fuel cells, Mechanical properties of gels, Characterization of polymeric materials with mass spectroscopy and organic solar cells. In addition to the research experience, two major goals of the REU Site were to rapidly assimilate the interns into the department while promoting intern-intern interactions, and to expose the interns to career opportunities in polymer research and manufacturing. The summer program began with an orientation in which the PI first introduced the students to each other, to the REU program and the college, followed by tours given by our graduate students. In the afternoon, safety issues were discussed and training was done. The PI closed the orientation with a description of the requirements and expectations for the REU program. During the first week four faculties gave a series of lectures about Polymer Science and Engineering, and Polymer-related Biomaterials. Two lectures on Ethics were also given. We also held various faculty research seminars with the interns which covered all major topics in the fields of Polymer Science and Engineering, and Polymer-related Biomaterials. Moreover, we held a series of panel discussions about career directions (industry, government, academia and non-traditional) that were offered by speakers from local companies, other universities, federal agencies, etc. We also had many gatherings of all the interns in an informal lunch to discuss their research progress, meet each other, meet graduate students in the department, learn how to organize their research results into a written abstract, and poster and oral presentations, and for the visits to companies and other institutions. Subsequent luncheon meetings involved graduate students from the department who described their research, background and career goals. The Akron General Medical Center, The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Bridgestone Americas, The Lubrizol Corporation and NASA Glenn Research Center provided tours of their facilities and demonstrations. The interns presented their summer research results at the Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Research Conference with two interns each from KSU, CWRU, NASA and UAkron giving 20-minute oral presentations. The NSF-supported interns contributed 30 posters to the conference over the three year period. Finally, it is worth mentioning that 66% of our 2010 summer REU interns that graduated on May 2012 or earlier are either pursuing a degree in a STEM field or working in the industrial sector in a STEM-related position. In the case of our 2011 summer REU interns that graduated on May 2012 or earlier, the percentage of them pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM field or working in a STEM-related position stands at 87.5%.