URI’s first Science & Engineering Fellows spend summer tackling research on challenging global issues

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Students from under-represented groups gain skills to enter job market

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 28, 2012 – A new fellowship program at the University of Rhode Island is helping undergraduate students from under-represented populations prepare to enter the job market by providing them with hands-on experience seeking solutions to challenging, real-world problems.

The first nine Science & Engineering Fellows conducted research in collaboration with URI faculty and graduate students on such diverse topics as explosives detection, oil spill remediation, renewable energy management, and the suppression of epileptic seizures.

“The goal of this new fellowship program is to provide these students with interdisciplinary, experiential learning opportunities that will give them the skills and experience they need to succeed in a difficult job market,” said Vanessa Venturini, extension educator at URI’s Mallon Outreach Center. “We provided them with mentors and placed them in the middle of interesting projects, and the students dived right in and seemed to love the experience.”

Following their summer fellowship, the students will enroll together this fall in a class designed to help them communicate the results of their research at scientific conferences and to the general public.

Raul Chacon, an electrical engineering major from Central Falls, used the fellowship to explore career opportunities in his chosen field. While working on renewable energy and energy conservation projects, he especially enjoyed working as part of a team.

“We were a mix of people from different majors – I was the only engineer – working toward the same goal. Everyone had a different perspective on every topic we discussed, and it really opened my mind,” Chacon said.

Stephanie Kimura organized environmental education programs for youth groups in Providence. A resident of North Kingstown, she said that the fellowship “gave me a sense of independence, which I loved. I was able to implement the ideas that I came up with, and my mentors allowed me to take part in the problem-solving process and valued my opinion.”

Amandine Gatali, a native of Pretoria, South Africa, studied ways of using nanoparticles to help degrade oil from seawater. She applied for the fellowship to learn more about the field of environmental engineering.

“My favorite part of the fellowship was the hands-on experience – being able to put my knowledge and research into practice and get some real results,” she said. “I also learned just how broad my major is and what kinds of opportunities are presented to you. Most important, I’m happy to have gained a lot of knowledge that I’ll be able to apply to classes I’ll be taking at URI in the future.”

The other science and engineering fellows are: Akinkoutu Adebolarinwa of Pawtucket, Marcus Allen of Plainsboro, N.J., Bruno Bisola of Pawtucket, Nilse DosSantos of Providence, Tracy Waweru of Worcester, Mass., and Abayomi Yussuf of Cumberland.