Campus: CSU Nortridge -- September 18, 2002

NASA Grant Helps CSUN Prepare Students for Research Careers

Getting students, particularly minority students, interested in careers in scientific research can be a challenge.

But with the help of a $1.2 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Cal State Northridge is doing just that with an innovative program that gives undergraduate students the tools they need to compete at the graduate level and then go on to careers in science, math and engineering.

"Our hope is that we are opening a door to possibilities for students who might not otherwise have thought of going on to graduate school and careers in math, science or engineering," said Carol Shubin, a CSUN math professor and director of the PAIR program.

PAIR is the acronym for Partnership Awards for the Integration of Research into mathematics, science, engineering and technology undergraduate education. PAIR is part of NASA's Minority University Research and Education's (MURED) effort to broaden access to science, math and engineering fields.

In partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the program aims to strengthen students' research abilities, particularly their analytical skills and computer proficiency, through an interdisciplinary approach. Among the departments at CSUN taking part in the program are mathematics, physics and astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology and computer science.
A couple dozen students have already gone through the program, which is in its third year.
Participants take intense courses during the breaks between semesters in such topics as data analysis. Classes last as long as four hours each and include research projects. Students also attend weekly seminars that may include speakers or reading academic papers.

The program offers $3,000 stipends for courses analyzing scientific data, up to $1,000 to help students prepare for graduate school examinations and some students even receive up to $15,000 a year for research fellowships working with CSUN faculty or scientists at JPL.
"One of our goals is to prepare the students so that when they get to graduate school they can compete," Shubin said. "Graduate school is a highly competitive environment. Many of our students didn't even come to this country until they were teenagers and are often the first in their families to graduate from high school, let alone go to college. They've overcome a lot of challenges just to get to CSUN, and we want to give them the tools so they can compete and make it when they get to graduate school."

She said not every student will go on to get a doctorate in science or math, but they may go on to get their master's and jobs that could have an impact in the fields of science, math or engineering, even with NASA.

"Not all the jobs at NASA involve going into space, and hopefully working with JPL will open our students' eyes to all the options out there," said Edward J. Carroll, Jr., dean of CSUN's College of Science and Mathematics.

Carroll said teaming with JPL scientists and the intense between-session courses are exciting.
"You have faculty from different fields teaching together in the classroom, so not only are the students learning something but you are too," said Carroll, who co-taught a course on proteomics, the study of organismal protein data, with math professor Lawrence Clevenson. "There was a sense of collaboration between all of us and we were all learning.

"This program offers wonderful opportunities for our students, and there is no limit to where they may end up," he said.

CSUN's College of Science and Mathematics is home to several nationally recognized programs where students gain valuable experience through hands-on work using the latest technologies and equipment. Students also have an opportunity to co-author publications with faculty members and present their research results at national and international meetings.

Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130 carmen.chandler@csun.edu


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