North Texas Daily

$359K awarded to STEM research for minorities

$359K awarded to STEM research for minorities

$359K awarded to STEM research for minorities
March 29
10:00 2019

Beginning in May, the UNT College of Information will operate three 10-week intensive research programs for undergraduate students from typically underrepresented populations with an interest in STEM fields and data analytics. The program will run from May 26 through Aug. 6 and will continue each summer through 2022.

The program, which was recently funded by a $359,879 Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation, is limited to 10 juniors and seniors from across the country. Half of the program’s 10 participants will be filled by students from these populations, and up to five positions can go to UNT students.

Information science professor Junhua Ding said the programs will provide students from minority populations the opportunity to work with faculty mentors on “current research projects,” including large scale tax collection, data analytics for software security, bioinformatics and social media information retrieval.

“Not everyone has the opportunity to do research supervised by a faculty member,” Ding said. “[Participants will learn] how to raise a question, how to conduct literature reviews, how to collect data, build evidence and give presentations.”

Ding, who previously ran a REU program at East Carolina University for six years, said he feels that UNT can provide an “excellent” environment to increase and encourage diversity through the summer programs.

First year graduate student Riya Bhusal works on a lab at Discovery Park. Bhusal is persuing a master’s degree in data science. Image by: Cameron Roe.

“As UNT is a growing institution for research, I believe UNT is doing good in helping diverse students do research,” Ding said. “We have lots of faculty from different backgrounds, and we can probably do lots of good work [through the programs].”

Ecology for environmental science freshman Pablo Lopez said he finds the grant important for “propelling underrepresented groups” to various STEM fields that are “dominated by primarily white men.”

“Many of these groups grow up without the proper resources to succeed in STEM or to even think of STEM as a viable pathway for their futures,” Lopez said. “To have this opportunity would be really helpful to many people who may need these resources to be successful in STEM and to diversify research.”

Lopez said that in his perspective, UNT is “fairly diverse” in STEM due to the university’s location in Texas, one of five minority-majority states in the U.S.

“I do see good Hispanic and African-American representation [in STEM classes], which is not the case in other colleges or universities that don’t have the amount of diversity that UNT has,” Lopez said. “Increased diversity correlates to a more enriching research experience.”

Around 40 applications were received for the 2019 program. Ding said the “low” number is in part due to this being UNT’s first year offering the program but expects the number of students with interest to increase in years to come.

Ding said UNT is now home to three of the nation’s 70 Computer and Information Science and Engineering REU sites, and “hopes to motivate” students from all majors to pursue STEM as a career or further their studies at a graduate level.

“Students will be involved with real research that our faculty is doing,” Ding said. “If they have the background to conduct this research, we will welcome them.”

Featured Image: Information science professor, Junhua Ding discusses recieving a $359,879 grant from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Ding wants to use the grant to help undergraduate students build research skills. Image by: Cameron Roe.

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Francisco Fregoso

Francisco Fregoso

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