University of South Carolina

A different kind of summer camp

By Jeff Stensland,, 803-777-3686

Peter Bruns loves the ocean, even though he says the closest large body of water to his hometown in Loveland, Ohio is an abandoned rock quarry three hours away.

“I was lucky to be able to travel and got my (scuba) dive certification after I finished sixth grade. But even before that, I knew I wanted to get into oceanography as a career,” said Bruns, a rising senior at Texas A&M University.

Fresh from a week-long dive in Belize, Bruns arrived this week at the East Quad of USC’s campus, joining nine other undergraduate students from all over the United States. They’ll spend 10 weeks in the Palmetto State conducting marine research as part a summer program called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program is designed to give aspiring young scientists a real-world taste of professional research. USC is one of only about two dozen schools chosen to host the REU program for students interested in ocean sciences research, a first for the program. The NSF also offers REU programs in other science fields, and USC has been a host site in computer science and biomedical and chemical engineering in recent years.

The REU program is highly competitive and admission is based on academic performance, written essays and faculty recommendations. The students work with a faculty mentors on projects they help select (Bruns is interested in fiddler crabs). The goal is to introduce students to the basics of the scientific method, hypothesis formulation and testing, research ethics, and the fundamentals of written and oral science communication. The program culminates in a poster session in August where the students present their research in public.

Tammi Richardson, an associate professor in the marine sciences program in the College of Arts and Sciences, said USC’s selection as an REU host site is a testament to the strength of the marine science program, which has produced 10 NOAA-sponsored Hollings Scholarship winners in past three years. The program’s director, Claudia Benitez-Nelson, was recently awarded the 2013 Mungo Distinguished Professor of the Year award.

“Many undergraduate students are very busy with coursework during the year and don’t have the change to get their hands wet in a real laboratory setting,” said Richardson, who is spearheading the REU program. “This is great opportunity for them to go to a different location and work with scientists on a significant research project.”

The program also is a good way to identify a talent pool of potential graduate students. The 10 at USC this summer come from a range of academic majors, including marine science, zoology, natural resources, chemistry and biology.

In addition to housing, the 10 students at USC will receive a stipend, meal allowances and funds for travel and supplies.

Another fringe benefit of studying marine science in the summer is trips to the beach, and the students will spend time at the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences near Georgetown. There, they’ll learn how to conduct research on a boat and explore South Carolina’s coastal salt marshes.

Bruns said he hopes the experience will help enahnce his knowledge of conducting research, and sharpen his resume his resume, before he begins applying to graduate schools. “This will also be the longest period of time I’m this close to the ocean, so that’s pretty exciting, too,” he said. 

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Posted: 05/29/13 @ 4:00 AM | Updated: 05/28/13 @ 1:41 PM | Permalink