Title:  REU Site:  Research Internships in Ocean Sciences (RIOS)

Funding Agency:  National Science Foundation

Project Lead: Josh Kohut

Period of Performance:  05/01/20-04/30/23

Total budget:  $498,501

Project Summary:

 The objective of this project is to renew our Rutgers University based REU site, Research Internships in Ocean Sciences (RIOS). During the previous fifteen years, 183 students have participated in RIOS (most supported by the NSF grant, with additional interns supported by Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences [DMCS], NOAA, and individual faculty research grants). Feedback from the students and mentors indicates their participation in the program is an enriching and rewarding experience. In a recent survey, the majority of past RIOS participants (94%) indicated that the program influenced their career choices or paths. We are confident that we have been successful in providing REU experiences that motivate and prepare students towards careers in ocean science, a goal that is central to the mission of DMCS.

We also acknowledge areas of the program that could be improved and over the last two years, have implemented significant changes to make these improvements. First, over the first thirteen years of the RIOS program, recruitment of underrepresented minority students was weak (an average of 10% of all applicants). Two years ago in our prior renewal, we proposed specific actions to improve recruitment of underrepresented minority students. These included direct collaboration with community colleges and the New Jersey chapter of the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, and changes to the selection process which increased minority participation by a factor of 3 in 2019. A second area of focus in recent years is the mentor/mentee relationship. Like most REU sites, we used pre- and post-surveys to document the strengths and weaknesses of our program. Through these evaluations and our own direct observations, it was clear that some mentors consistently have high- performing students who demonstrate real growth as scientists during the course of the internship. Previous renewals of the RIOS program have added trainings for the students. Recognizing the diversity of undergraduate mentoring experiences among our faculty, we added mentor training two years ago so that best practices demonstrated by our most effective mentors could be shared with all participating faculty. In this proposed renewal, we will expand this training by entraining Rutgers University faculty and staff from other departments who research, train, and support mentor-mentee best practices.

The goal of RIOS is to enable students interested in ocean sciences to participate in meaningful, interactive research directed by an enthusiastic, experienced group of mentors. Group activities and independent research are embedded within ongoing programs, many of which are focused on the New Jersey continental shelf and adjacent estuaries. Our approach focuses on 3C’s: conceiving a project, conducting the research, and communicating the results. Students write research proposals, participate in research cruises, conduct laboratory and field research, analyze either existing or their own generated data, and communicate their work in various formats throughout the 10 week program. Finally, a poster designed for display at a national scientific meeting communicates their work with a summary of the hypotheses tested, approach taken, and new knowledge gained. These experiences are enhanced through discussions of traditional and non-traditional careers in marine science at two career panels hosted by graduate students in the department, and workshops on scientific ethics, teamwork, leadership, and graduate and career training. The 10-week program generally begins the first week in June and concludes the first week in August.