POETS Center receives NSF REU grant

10/19/2017 Veronica Holloway

Written by Veronica Holloway

The POETS Center, directed by Ralph and Catherine Fisher Professor Andrew Alleyne of MechSE, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) REU grant.

The POETS (Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems) Center is a multi-university research center, aiming to improve power density of next generation electro-thermal systems.

The overall goal of the POETS REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) grant is to help guide students towards a meaningful future in advanced STEM careers through empowerment and education. It is unique because it offers opportunities for hands-on research experiences to a diverse set of undergraduate students, emphasizing the inclusion of individuals from underrepresented and/or minority groups.

“It’s a different spin on the REU program,” said Dr. Jessica Perez, the POETS Center Education and Inclusivity Director. “We think traditionally an REU focuses a lot on grad school, how you get in, and what it’s like to be a faculty member. However, what studies have shown is that minority students in particular don’t see themselves in the faculty role or industry and part of that is because there is a lack of role models. We are focusing on introducing them to a wide variety of different career paths.”

In the previous two years, the POETS Center has hosted four students for this program, and with the additional NSF funding they are expanding to ten. These individuals will be spread across the POETS universities—Stanford University, University of Arkansas, and Howard University, in addition to Illinois—researching a problem of interest relating to the work of the POETS Center.

Pairing with the research, the program will involve personal competence workshops, career planning workshops, and career advising speakers. The students access those components often via webinar or LinkedIn, allowing them to connect with their fellow REU members across the country.

“We’re really excited about this REU site award because that’s going to enable us to bring in more REU students into our program to create more of a POETS community,” said Perez. “The nice thing is with the funding we were able to plan more POETS-related activities because before it was kind of decentralized; the group was so spread out and there were so few individuals. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in this next year.”

One of the aspects of the program that is in development is outreach. The REU members will have the opportunity to visit high schools and talk to the students about either POETS research as a whole or their specific research project. This serves to create research interest in high school students as well as provide an outlet for the program’s members to practice presenting their research.

“I think that’s a very important skill—being able to communicate your research effectively and convince someone, or just articulate the impact of your work and why it is important,” Perez said. “We think that involving the REU students in outreach activities can help them learn how to communicate their research and communicate the impact.”

At the end of the summer, the program will culminate in a conference for all the REU students, likely at the University of Illinois campus. The conference will give them the chance to present their research, meet each other, and begin to build a network of peers. Previous members of the program will be invited to come and speak about how their perspectives changed and how their lives were affected after taking part in the REU.

The starting date of the grant was September 15, 2017 and the center is located in the Engineering Research Center at University of Illinois. 

PHOTO AT TOP: The POETS Center's Joe Muskin and Jessica Perez.

Share this story

This story was published October 19, 2017.