Campus News - November 12, 2001

Mentoring, teamwork backbone of successful PURSUE program

Photo by Michael Padilla.

By Michael Padilla

Since its creation in August 1998, PURSUE (Preparation for University Research of Students in Undergraduate Education) has funded 128 research and education projects and has assisted more than 300 undergraduates, 60 graduate students, 50 faculty members and 30 visiting high school students.

“This program is an unselfish and all inclusive program,” said Dr. Nader Vadiee, director of the program and electrical and computer engineering professor.

The program enhances the quality of mathematics, science, engineering and technology (MSET) education for undergraduate students, specifically those from minorities and underrepresented groups, with the ultimate goal of strengthening their MSET baccalaureate degree graduation rates.

“We have a 100 percent retention rate in the program,” Vadiee said. “Exposing these students to research experience at an early stage really makes this program successful.”

PURSUE students (standing top left) Alejandro Rosillo-Anaya, junior EECE major, Joshua Morgin, senior EECE major, Paul De Rego, EECE graduate student and mentor, and Nader Vadiee, program director.

A major aspect of PURSUE is the commitment of having graduate students mentor undergraduate students. “Mentoring and team work are part of the culture of the PURSUE program,” Vadiee said. “My vision is to make mentoring a graduate school requirement. Graduate student mentors are the backbone of PURSUE.” The information from the funded projects are disseminated through the PURSUE Annual Student Conference, program publications, program website and more than fifteen affiliated satellite websites.

The 128 projects funded by PURSUE include creating collaborative mobile robots, which has applications in combatting bioterrorism. The project has taken on a new task of designing a team of cooperative small smart, mobile robots that can be deployed and infiltrate areas polluted and contaminated with hazardous biological and chemical agents and return valuable information on the size, extent and type of contamination.

“We not only assist individuals interested in sciences and engineering, but those in other departments at UNM,” Vadiee said, adding that the program reached out to undergraduates in Communication and Journalism, Anderson Schools of Management, College of Education, and more. The goal is to expose students to NASA and space-related research.

Most recently, PURSUE funded a video production project in the Communications and Journalism Department. The funds allowed C&J to purchase new equipment and enhance the department’s video production facilities. The PURSUE video will be ready for distribution Nov. 15.

PURSUE involves all School of Engineering departments and also has the commitment and participation of biology, chemistry, earth and planetary sciences (with the Institute of Meteoritics), mathematics, and physics and astronomy.

The program assisted in the development of several Regener Hall physics experiments demonstrations, which are available for high school science teachers.

Other projects include the development of greenhouse environmental control, enhancement of electronics laboratory, integration of freshman lecture and laboratory in chemistry, computer visualization of physical chemistry, fluid mechanics studies for aerodynamic flow control, a search for extrasolar planets, laser refrigeration in solids, studies of strong forces, avian ecology of Chaco Canyon, cooperative microsatellite array, and seasonal geochemical response of a shallow alluvial aquifer.

All the PURSUE faculty are committed to the integration of their cutting edge research findings into the undergraduate curriculum.
The program is funded by a $2.5 million grant from NASA Minority University Research and Education Division (MURED) in collaboration with New Mexico Highlands University, Technical Vocational Institute, and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. PURSUE K-12 partner schools include Bernalillo Public Schools and Los Lunas Manzano Vista Middle School. Professors David Kauffman and Laura Crossey are the program PI for education and PI for research, respectively.

Vadiee said that 75 percent of the funds go toward student stipends, travel expenses, and project supplies and equipment while the remainder goes toward the administration and upkeep of the program.

“NASA PAIR program was amazed that we supported 300 students,” Vadiee said, adding that the program taps into UNM’s resources and research infrastructure and doesn’t have to hire faculty to lead students. Vadiee said the program funds mini-grants for new faculty, which in turn helps them to bring other research grants.

The deadline for the submission of the PURSUE project renewal package as well as request for funding new PURSUE projects is Thursday, Nov. 15. The spring funding cycle is Jan. 15 - May 15, 2002.

For more information visit http://pursue.unm.edu.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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