Program gives students unique experience

Left to right: Dana Harvey, Joseph Barnes, Patrisse Vasek, Madeline Alisa Valentin, Pauline Dredger, Kingsley Vincent Chow.
Credit: 
Black Hills State University

Talk about a great summer gig. For 10 weeks, Dana Harvey learned all about modern research methods and tools through a National Science Foundation (NSF) program: Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). 

“I got to see what it is like to really work in a lab,” said Harvey, a physics major at Davidson College in North Carolina. “It was a great experience. I learned a lot and got to do some cool research.” Harvey was one of six students who participated in this year’s program. The students each worked with a mentor throughout the program.

In April, Black Hills State University (BHSU) received a grant of more than $250,000 from the NSF to support students participating in undergraduate science research at Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab). The funds will be used over three years to provide 21 college-level students a 10-week hands-on research experience.

The program director, Brianna Mount, an assistant research professor at BHSU, said the program gives student researchers opportunities to engage in research related to some of the most important physics experiments of our time—searching for dark matter and investigating properties of the neutrino—as well as research in other scientific fields, specifically chemistry and biology.

“Students will use this experience as a spring-board toward pursuing a career in science. This will help students prepare for graduate school or careers in astrophysics, microbiology and environmental chemistry,” said Mount.

The program also helps students become proficient in both day-to-day lab procedures and data analysis. They develop their abilities to communicate science through speaking and writing as well, said Mount.

Students supported by the grant funds lived on campus and worked with BHSU faculty mentors at the BHSU Underground Campus (BHUC) at Sanford Lab in Lead. The BHUC is a unique, world-class research space for scientists from institutions around the globe, enabling discovery in many disciplines. The BHUC also works with researchers from the Berkeley Low-Background Facility, which gives additional opportunities to the REU students. 

“BHSU is taking full advantage of the new infrastructure at the BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab,” said Rod Custer, former BHSU provost. “Over the past eight years, BHSU students and researchers have become increasingly involved in underground projects, and we continue to share that knowledge with students across the country through this work with the National Science Foundation. This is a very prestigious grant and BHSU is excited about the unique research opportunities for students from across the nation.”

In addition to working on their summer research projects, students worked with BHSU faculty and staff on career mentoring, including professional development sessions on selecting graduate schools and applying for jobs in scientific industries.

Students participating in the BHSU undergraduate research experience include:

Kingsley Vincent Chow, Diabolo Valley College, Pleasant Hill, Calif.

Madeline Alisa Valentin, Augustana University, Sioux Falls

Joseph Barnes, Benedictine College, Atchison, Kan.

Patrisse Vasek, Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, S.D.

Dana Harvey, Davidson College, Davidson, N.C.

Pauline Dredger, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.