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Early Research Scholars Program provides apprenticeship to CS, ECE undergrads

Undergraduate students in the computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments at UIC have the opportunity to experience an apprenticeship in research through the Early Research Scholars Program.

The program is a two-semester experience. In the fall semester, scholars learn how to conduct research: how to perform a literature review and present results, for example. They meet weekly with a team of mentors, including program directors Renata A. Revelo, clinical assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering department, and Joe Hummel, clinical associate professor of computer science, as well as a graduate student ERSP mentor, who is an advanced PhD student from one of the two participating departments. They also learn about graduate school and other aspects of their chosen fields. Teams of three or four scholars are paired with a faculty member for a research project, which culminates in a final report and poster presentation at the end of the second semester.

“Our approach to the program is from the holistic side. We want students to feel connected to their major, to the school,” Revelo said. “Through ERSP, we want to make sure that the students feel a sense of belonging in ECE and CS.”

The program has a particular focus on including women, Black, Latinx, Native American and Indigenous students. Students must apply to the program, which is advertised through the introductory CS and ECE courses, through student groups such as the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, Women in Computer Science, and with UIC’s Equity and Inclusion in Engineering Program.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, 28 scholars participated. They resulted in eight completed research projects, including an ECE project to exploit CRP correlations in arbiter PUFs for Associate Professor Wenjing Rao, which involved ERSP Scholars Marius Zavistanavicius, Sasha Typkheeva, and Eloisa Marquez; and a project focused on the user interface of a wearable tongue-computer control interface for Haneneh Esmailbeigi, a clinical associate professor in the bioengineering department. The four ESRPScholars who worked on that project—Maryam Ahmed, Mallika Patil, Mahal Schroeder, and Anya Ellis—had their poster accepted by the Grace Hopper Celebration, an outside conference focused on women in technology.

“ERSP provides first and second year undergraduates a chance to get involved in active research projects, one of the advantages of attending an R1 university.  It’s a unique program, and we are proud that our students are not only interested, but succeeding at such a demanding level,” Hummel said.

This school year, 30 scholars are taking part in the program.

“The content hasn’t changed but the teamwork aspect has,” Revelo said, noting that the group is leveraging multiple online collaboration tools to facilitate group work during remote learning.

Since students cannot travel to attend outside conferences this year, Revelo said that portion of the budget has been redirected to add undergraduate peer mentors to the program, students who participated in the program in its inaugural year.

UIC is one of four schools in the NSF grant-funded Early Research Scholars Program cohort, which began at University of California San Diego. Other schools include Stanford and University of California Santa Barbara.

Students who complete both semesters receive three technical elective credit hours toward graduation.

“One professor who participated expressed hope that a student would continue on to graduate school. Overall, the goal of the program is to get our students to feel like they belong here,” Revelo said.

For more information, visit the Early Research Scholars Program Chicago website.