February 7, 2023 Lauri Stone

Acing Academics: Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program provides a brilliant opportunity for students to understand what life as a research scientist would be like. What a rare chance to work with an esteemed scientist and a small group of peers so the student has the ability to make an informed decision about whether science and graduate school is what they would like to pursue. The REU is also a special gift for the scientists who are passionately invested, mentoring each and every student, program cycle after cycle.

The internships are usually funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) who allocates roughly 25% of their annual budget through grants awarded to various colleges and universities across the U.S. The programs are designed for STEM undergraduates; those with a high aptitude for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Most of the time the programs are led by the professor running the program in highly specialized areas pertaining to physics, chemistry, geology, biology, psychology, or computer science.

As one would expect, the competition is fierce. In fact, the difficulty in gaining acceptance to an REU is often likened to acceptance to a prestigious university. Sheer numbers– there are typically a dozen seats for one six-to-eight-week summer cycle and on average 300 applications along with supporting documents. There are mountains of applications, letters and spreadsheets, interviews to conduct, data to track. The amount work that goes into one single summer program is vast with faculty and staff often jumping in to help, taking on additional tasks to their already full responsibilities.

The importance of demographics

The vetting and criteria filters are very strict, so it is not just about a student having excellent grades and an aptitude for science. Administrators must factor in demographics so that underrepresented groups are prioritized. In fact, the NSF mandates and monitors admittance of ethnic and first-generation college students as a requirement to continue running the programs with the awarded NSF grant money. Following a summer session, administrators must pull data reports and submit these numbers to the NSF to ensure that they are following policies and guidelines.

It all starts with heavy recruitment of star science students that sometimes includes high school students. Students find the programs themselves based on areas of interest and/or location. Sometimes a mentoring teacher or professor will guide the student (who then later becomes a recommender to advocate the student to the program) and when it all comes together, it’s magic.  The student is provided a full immersive learning experience with the end result being a summer they will never forget. The REUs are intense, all-encompassing learning experiences that are true labors of love for the university and often these programs create a life-changing event for the student.

Where’s the technology to ease the workload?

Hundreds of REU hopefuls apply through the university’s websites or portals which often are platforms that are outdated, lack automation and quality data control. It is an exhaustive procedure that has driven many administrators to locate and utilize software in the marketplace that could ease up the manual processes. The problem is that most of the software tools available are just forms that have little or no automation features at all. So, the workflow isn’t really relieved with technology after all. Or if there is a platform available, the product is too broad and not specifically geared for higher education much less a niche program like an REU.

There is one such platform that automates the recruiting, applications, and admissions workflow beautifully. This platform seeks to make lives easier for the dedicated faculty and staff at the university, developed by a higher education strategist and technologist who headed several departments at an ivy league university. He noticed the amount of cumbersome work required for each REU cycle and wondered why better technology wasn’t available to his colleagues. He also noticed gaps that caused delays, lapses in communication, redundancies, failed submissions, and great students who got away because of incomplete submissions or missing data. Certainly, a wonderful program like the REU deserves better.

The Sanmita Admissions streamlines the processes with automated modules that are designed for each of the user groups, including a reviewer module. There are tickler/reminder systems in place, templates, rating systems, and ways to share information- or not – among other participating reviewers. After a cycle is complete, the software securely stores the data which makes NSF reporting accurate and easier.

Since its launch, Sanmita Admissions has been very well received as it continues to add more features. The ease of use, no software to download, no licensing fees or contracts makes this application the only real automated option that exists for the REU.

It’s high season for applications now or the deadline may have just passed for the summer 2022 cycle.  It’s never too late to jump on a quick demo to see the software in action. In most cases, the out-of-the-box version would be up and running within two weeks.  There are also customization opportunities that can be discussed for a truly personalized platform that meets the needs of each unique program and the labor behind it.

If you are managing a summer research program and would like to lighten the load, schedule a quick demo and access the calendar here.

Sanmita is an award-winning strategy, design and technology firm with over 15 years’ experience in working with higher education. Check out our projects, great testimonials from major universities, and our exceptional leadership team.

Lauri Stone

Lauri Stone is Director of Client Relations at Sanmita, Inc., a web design and development firm offering strategy, design, and technology services to higher education, government, and nonprofit entities. She comes to Sanmita with over 25 years of experience in media marketing and advertising and is located in Los Angeles, California.