Chemistry research program receives record number of applicants

Haley Baker

Kent State’s Research Experience for Undergraduates chemistry program received 315 applications, a record high, for this summer’s program.

REU is a 10-week chemistry program that allows a select group of students to participate in research with faculty from the university.  Kent State has the area’s longest ongoing program, and it is one of the most popular.

Erin Michael, chemistry and biochemistry administrative assistant and Graduate Program administrator said this year’s REU program is accepting 16 applicants from the university and from other schools around the country.

Michael said the program has existed since 2001 and is funded by the National Science Foundation. She said 15 to 20 students usually participate and around  10 of them are from other institutions. The NSF funds those students. Kent State students are funded through an internal match program.

Associate chemical physics professor Torsten Hegmann, another administrator in the program, said the early exposure to research is valuable for students.

“We want to get students early on in the research track to get them interested,” Hegmann said. “The rate of these students going on to graduate schools in science related fields has been quite high. “

Junior chemistry major Mary Waddington participated in the program as a freshman, even though Michael said only juniors and seniors are usually accepted.

At first, Waddington was not accepted into the REU program.

“But since I had already been doing undergraduate research for so long with Dr. [Nicola] Brasch, she hired me,” Waddington said. “So it was my choice to do the REU programs if I wanted to.“

At the end of the summer, Waddington and another participant were voted to present their research at Case Western Reserve.

She said it was a great experience that helped her grow.

“I’m so lucky I was able to be a part of the program, especially so young,” Waddington said. With everything that’s come from it, it’s been a huge evolution for me.”

Michael and Hegmann both said cuts in science funding have decreased the amount of REU programs in the area. Hegmann said the high number of applicants reflects this.

“But it also shows that there is a great interest in need for students seeking that opportunity,” Hegmann said. “We have a very large number of students with a 4.0 GPA applying to this program. Probably close to 10 times more than we can take.”

Hegmann also said that Kent could be a popular REU destination because of the Liquid Crystal Institute on campus.

“I believe that when students choose through the programs and decide where they want to spend the summer doing research, the combination of chemistry and soft matter science is very appealing to them,” Hegmann said.

Waddington said she was told at a conference that REU programs are starting to become more competitive than graduate school programs.

“Not just chemistry students want to get involved with REU programs,” Waddington said. “It looks great on a resume, even if they don’t want to go into science. It’s been told to us that it’s not enough having a good GPA to get into graduate school. You have to have research experience and a great recommendation letter.”

However, Hegmann said this record number of applicants is evidence of a successful program and could be a good thing in the sense of funding.

“There are a number of other grants from other agencies, including the NSF and NIH, where the component of undergraduate training is critical,” Hegmann said. “So showing a track record of a successful REU program and the incorporation of the programs that you plan on submitting to is a good exercise. It helps us gain funding from other programs.”

Michael said, students are granted $5,000 stipends to help with housing, provided a meal once a week and get to experience social events such as a canoe trip and a concert at the Blossom Music Center.

“It’s combination of a learning experience and a social experience,” Michael said. “These are people they can network with down the road. We have also gotten graduate students out of it, so it’s a nice benefit for the school as well.”

Contact Haley Baker at [email protected].