Now in its fifth year, shadowing program gives aspiring college students insight into undergraduate research opportunities

The program allows students from area high schools to spend the afternoon shadowing UAH undergraduates to get an idea of the university’s research opportunities.

Michael Mercier | UAH

On June 6, 23 students from area high schools spent an afternoon at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), shadowing undergraduate participants in the university’s Summer Community of Scholars (SCS) Program. The SCS has over 80 members made up of undergraduates in the Research or Creative Experience for Undergraduates (RCEU) summer program, the Honors Capstone Research (HCR) summer program, as well as students doing research with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site and Supplement programs. The group also welcomes any other undergraduate researchers on campus during the summer semester.

The shadowing program allows visiting students a chance to get an insider’s look at UAH’s undergraduate research opportunities and network with both peers and faculty members while learning more about the specific research projects they applied to work on.

"This is the fifth year that we’ve offered the shadowing program, and once again, we’ve seen an increase in the number of students applying to participate," says Dave Cook, UAH’s director of undergraduate research. "We’re proud of this unique opportunity for aspiring college students to be able to spend some time at UAH and learn about all of the hands-on, high-level research that our undergraduates do – and that they might also be able to do one day, if they decide to attend UAH."

Designed to expand hands-on research opportunities to UAH’s undergraduates, the RCEU and HCR programs allow students to participate in ongoing research projects under the supervision of a faculty member or researcher for a period of 10 to 12 weeks over the summer. In addition, undergraduate researchers in the SCS undergo six professional development training sessions, and the program culminates in a poster session in the Fall. The shadowing program, in turn, invites those planning to attend university to spend a few hours with their undergraduate counterparts touring lab space, learning about research and meeting with faculty members and research staff.

This year’s cohort of shadowing students came from Austin High School, Bob Jones High School, Buckhorn High School, Columbia High School, Covenant Christian Academy, Grissom High School, Hazel Green High School, Hewitt-Trussville High School, Huntsville High School, Jacksonville High School, James Clemens High School, Madison Academy, New Century Technology High School, Randolph High School, Whitesburg Christian Academy, and home schooled.

Each shadowing student was asked to submit their preference for – and then paired with – an RCEU or HCR project. Some examples of the projects available to the visiting students included:

  • developing algorithmic solutions for real-time gesture recognition to support a 3D user interfaces and video game prototypes
  • investigating diabetes research involving model animal fluids and tissue using spectroscopy (NMR and Mass spectrometry)
  • measuring indoor air pollution and its effects caused by common indoor activities such as cleaning, crafting, exercising, etc.
  • utilizing weather radar to study the physical processes that generate precipitation, like rain and snow, in large thunderstorm complexes spanning a 100 miles or more
  • using eye-tracking equipment at the UAH user experience lab to measure how people perceive astronomical images
  • controlling gene exchange with the far-reaching goal of countering the spread of drug resistance in bacteria

Said one student about the experience, "I thought the Shadowing Program was great, as you get to see the average day of the student doing the research project. It was also insightful to be able to talk to people about the pathways and job opportunities that come with doing the research projects."

Other students expressed a similar appreciation for the experience in a post-event survey, with comments that included the following:

  • It helped me feel more comfortable with the fact that I haven’t picked a major, but it also helped me find aspects that I would look for in a major. I was introduced to a variety of mini-pathways in the field, which showed the broad range of careers that stem from a single major.
  • The student researchers were very helpful in answering my questions. They helped simplify the lab processes to allow me to follow along.
  • It gave me an opportunity to see how research at UAH is like from a student’s point of view. It comforted me to know how the process works.
  • The program interested me greatly. I am eagerly waiting to apply for research opportunities after I get into UAH.
  • I think the shadowing program offered a realistic perspective of what research has to offer and demonstrates the availability of student research opportunities at UAH.

One even expressed their appreciation that the event was able to clarify their research goals by giving them a better understanding of the area of study they had originally selected. "I believe that I chose a field that I am not interested in, so I feel like the program helped me eliminate a scientific field," they noted. "I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by UAH and hope to explore a different field next year."

Cook is now looking ahead to next year’s program with the goal of expanding its reach. "This program really inspires the students who participate, and gives them a glimpse into the creative possibilities that research can offer," he says. "Our goal is to show that at UAH we offer opportunities to ambitious students who want to get involved in their education beyond the classroom. Participating in research is the application and extension of classroom learning, and offers big benefits for those students ready for the challenge. If the visiting students like what they see and want to be part of our cutting-edge research, we hope that they’ll join us here at UAH where we can make it happen."


Dave Cook
Director of Undergraduate Research