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A Message from The JMU Chemistry REU Site Director

 

            Welcome to the web site that describes the summer research program in chemistry of James Madison University (JMU).   This year (2013) marks the twenty-first summer of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded chemistry research site and the twenty-fourth year of an organized formal summer research program at our school since the late 1980s.  Our department has always encouraged undergraduate research as an important part of the development of many of our chemistry majors.  In the days before a formal summer research program, most projects were done during the academic year and JMU chemistry students (and faculty) were encouraged to spend summer elsewhere working in research university labs, government labs, etc.  By the late 1980s, the size of our faculty had increased and there was substantial success in obtaining external grants.  In addition, the department had acquired significant instrumentation and many novel experiments could now be done here.  At about the same time, the NSF was taking a careful look at the state of science in the nation. It was becoming obvious that both the percentage and numbers of students majoring in science and engineering was shrinking.  It was anticipated that in the early decades of the twenty-first century the United States would have to import skilled scientists in order to satisfy the needs of government, academia, and industry as older scientists retired.  It was feared that this could put the country at a disadvantage in the world economy.  The NSF thus created the Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site grant awards as a tool to retain and attract undergraduates into science.  In our early years we operated a summer research program with support from alumnae contributions and other sources of support.  But with the advent of the REU program we sought grant support from the NSF to extend these opportunities.

 

            Each year a limited number of NSF-REU site grants are awarded on a highly competitive basis.  There are about 50-60 chemistry sites nationally in any given year (NSF-REU web page http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/reu/), with most awards made to departments of major Ph.D. granting universities.  JMU is one of a small number of terminal bachelor's degree schools (in chemistry) that have been successful in gaining REU grant support.  Although models differ from school to school, most programs are similar to ours in that they involve about 8-12 junior or sophomore level students who spend ten weeks in the summer working in labs mentored by a faculty member.  The students receive a stipend to offset the wages they may have gained by summer employment and at JMU we provide free housing for those who want it.   In such a close relationship, the students gain considerable skills and knowledge and often they choose to go on to graduate study after graduation.  Many also follow up with publication of their work and presentations at scientific conferences.

 

            In the early years of REU funding, our department focused on attracting students (and some faculty) from smaller colleges and universities in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country.  As an integral part of the REU site, we were particularly interested in extending opportunities for good students from the smaller schools where there was little opportunity for conducting research.  The close community of undergraduates mentored by faculty was particularly appealing for some students that were better served by a small, close knit community rather than the larger groups found at some Ph.D. schools.  In our current funding, we remain committed to this mission yet have also expanded to include students from other areas of the country and participation of deaf students.   In the late 1990s Dr. MacDonald, the co-PI of the REU site, included a deaf scientist in her research group.  As a direct result of her continued efforts in working with the deaf and hard of hearing, our NSF-REU site now includes deaf participants as an integral part of the program.  Our main objective in this is to aid in the career development of all students both deaf and hearing.  But also, we wish to address the national need to make science more accessible.  Thus each summer our group includes some deaf undergraduate students, hearing students, student interpreters, interpreter mentors, professional interpreters and faculty.  We also will include some deaf high school students and teachers of the deaf in future summer programs.  To extend the REU "critical mass", students employed on other research grants are included with the REU group in day-to-day activities.  In total, we will have about three dozen people working together in the chemistry REU community in the upcoming summer.

 

            James Madison University is a pleasant place during the summer months.  The 18,000 students that attend during the school year are mostly gone for the summer.  The summer school enrollment here is small, so the REU program is the chief focus of chemistry department activity from June through August.  The faculty are dedicated and enthusiastic about this program.  In addition to the chemistry site, we have three other REU sites that operate simultaneously at JMU materials science, math and biology - and a separate similar program in environmental biology.  All these sites work together and we have some common external speaker seminars and other interactions such as social events and symposia.  All in all, we work hard but also share some fun times too!  The general observation of the program director has been that the REU has been a career and life changing experience for most student participants.

 

            Thank you for visiting the JMU chemistry REU web site.  We hope that you will consider sending us an application (regular mail only).  Information on faculty research interests, instrumentation and other details may be found elsewhere on this web page or from the homepage for the department (http://www.jmu.edu/chemistry/).

 

Dan Downey

Principle Investigator / Program Director

James Madison University Chemistry REU