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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

REYES Mentorship Program Crosses International Borders

By Sherry DiBari

Raúl Briceño and Andrew Jackura have a hard time saying no.

When Briceño, assistant professor of physics at Old Dominion University, and Jackura, an ODU postdoctoral researcher, volunteered for a new research-based STEM-H mentorship program offered through ODU's REYES and HALES program, they didn't know how many students would apply.

"I expected five people or so would be interested," Jackura said.

He was surprised when more than 150 potential mentees from across the globe applied for "python and subatomic physics," a project he co-designed.

Briceño and Jackura quickly turned the mentorship into a program that was more inclusive to students around the globe, offering a series of public lectures explaining the basics of particle physics and programming.

REYES (Remote Experience for Young Engineers and Scientists) is a free virtual STEM-H program that began in 2020 as a summer program and later expanded to include a monthly lecture series.

This summer, REYES added the virtual, research-based mentorship open worldwide to students of all ages, as well as non-U.S. citizens.

The goal of the mentorship was to match interested participants from around the world with researchers on specific topics within the mentor's field.

More than two dozen professors, researchers and graduate students from ODU and Florida International University joined colleagues from six universities in Mexico and one in India to provide free research experiences for students. An additional mentorship was offered through Jefferson Lab.

Rachel White, an ODU doctoral student, mentor and STEM coordinator at Landstown High School, managed the international operation. She received 280 applications from students in 38 countries.

Applicants not paired with a mentor were offered a spot in Briceño and Jackura's project group.

The mentorships began on June 28 and will continue until Oct. 15.

A number of projects included in-depth literature research on a variety of subjects: off-shore wind energy, sustainable food systems, gender equity in STEM fields and the correlation between COVID-19 and cancer comorbidity.

Deborah Waller, associate professor in ODU's Department of Biological Sciences, led a research project on spices that could be used for ant repellents.

Participants were instructed to place food bait outside and observe how ants reacted.

Waller's students ranged in age from 12 to 20 and hailed from the United States, Puerto Rico, Brazil, India, Mexico and the Philippines.

"I have been delighted at how creative the mentees are," Waller said. "If there is a problem with one of their experiments, they think about possible reasons for the problem and then devise solutions. They know how to reason scientifically, and that is a joy to see."

Mentees accepted for the REYES mentorship program were expected to:

  • Write at least one journal entry every week about their experience.
  • Meet virtually with their mentor.
  • Complete the project assignments.
  • Present their work in a four-page report and a short oral presentation.

After the program ends, the REYES team plans to host additional events for the mentees throughout the academic year.

"Thanks to the REYES program, students are expanding their personal and professional growth, gaining confidence in research and building connections with peers around the globe," said Giovanna Genard, assistant vice president for strategic communication and marketing at ODU.

Jackura, though originally daunted by the number of students, felt that it was a positive experience.

"My favorite thing was working with different people from around the world and having discussions on all things physics with these bright young scientists," he said. "Seeing their interest in our work was a great experience that I will never forget."

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