Earth Science on Volcanic Islands cohort on a hike at Pālehua. (Credit: Shaneika Aguilar)

A cohort of 10 motivated undergraduate students arrived at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in June to participate in a summer research internship, Earth Science on Volcanic Islands, hosted by the UH Mānoa Department of Geology and Geophysics. The opportunity, funded for three years by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, seeks to increase participation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce by underrepresented groups.

“In practice, what this means is we find highly qualified students for whom participation in this program will have the biggest impact,” said Paul Wessel, director of the program and chair of geology and geophysics in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. “After sorting through over 350 applicants, we are very pleased with this year’s cohort; it is a great group.”

Hands-on experiences: In the lab, in the field

Students are assigned to work with faculty throughout the school—with mentors from the geology and geophysics and oceanography departments as well as Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology—for nine weeks. The internship program takes advantage of the unique tropical volcanic island and surrounding marine environments in Hawaiʻi, which are found nowhere else in the country.

Participants will conduct a wide range of original research, including studies of active and inactive Hawaiian volcanoes, environmental science in tropical watersheds and coastal environments, effect of groundwater discharge on corals, mapping and modeling of Earth processes and much more.

Led by geology faculty, the cohort began the program with a two-day field trip to Hawaiʻi Island. They will also participate in an expedition on the UH Mānoa research vessel Kilo Moana for three days, mapping the seafloor and collecting remotely-sensed geophysical data, as well as physical samples from the seafloor and water column near Kaʻena ridge west of Oʻahu.

11 cohort students wearing lei
Earth Science on Volcanic Islands 2018 cohort. (Credit: UH Mānoa SOEST)

A history of success

Wessel was a mentor in the late 1990s and early 2000s when UH Mānoa oceanography hosted similar NSF-funded programs. He has seen first-hand the success of these engaging programs and has high hopes for the program’s impact this year.

“Being part of a cohort going through the same thrills and challenges as a group provides strong support and is typically one of the aspects of the program that students really enjoy,” said Wessel. “The hands-on projects combined with the one-on-one mentoring gives students a sneak preview of what graduate school is like, and most of our REU students become highly motivated to pursue that route.”

—By Marcie Grabowski