summer scholar group
2023 Summer Community of Scholars provides hands-on learning opportunities for undergraduates, allowing students to participate in research and creative scholarship projects under the supervision of a faculty member or researcher for the 10-week summer semester.
Courtesy David Cook

The 2023 Summer Community of Scholars (SCS) recently began its 18th year as an undergraduate research summer program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). The program was initiated in 2006 with the first campuswide Research and Creative Experience for Undergraduates (RCEU) program. In 2017 the Honors Capstone Research (HCR) Summer Program was added to the mix, and the SCS was established.

The scholars program is designed to expand hands-on learning opportunities for UAH’s undergraduates, allowing students to participate in research and creative scholarship projects under the supervision of a faculty member or researcher for the 10-week summer semester.

“This is a ‘kick-starter’ program for undergraduates who are exploring the benefits of getting involved in research, or who have already been bitten by the bug and want to pursue graduate school and/or research as a career,” says Dave Cook, director of undergraduate research who helps run the program with Vinny Argentina, the RCEU director.

In addition to UAH participants, the program also invites National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates participants who are visiting UAH for the summer, enabling these students to learn by working with some of the top faculty and research staff at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System. This year the group includes 55 members.

“I can tell you this from my experience with the program: students getting professional experience and mentorship while working full time in their chosen field can be hugely beneficial to them,” Argentina says. “The projects can help students dramatically accelerate skills and understanding of subject matter and provide a firsthand understanding of the realities of working in their chosen field, as well as a glimpse into a possible career path for them. I believe that the direct benefits to the students and the quality of the experience for all those involved are the primary reasons for the program's long-term success.”

“This program has changed the way I see education,” says Danial Ahari, a sophomore in computer science who has been working on a project involving host-based CD-ROM data recovery. “This summer has been an extremely engaging experience that has solidified my decision to change my academic plans. The professors and faculty that participate as mentors truly want to help students. They have given me a strong desire to become an academic myself one day, a researcher and professor, so that I might have the opportunity to see students in my current position and help them.”

Awards won by UAH students who were recent attendees include the Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship; the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program; Goldwater Scholarships; National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Germany and a NASA Solar System Ambassador. Past participants have been accepted into graduate programs at institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University in the United Kingdom, as well.

“The Summer Community of Scholars program has been a wonderful and insightful experience,” says McClellan Buckhalter, a student majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering who designed a pendulum pulse test stand for hybrid rotating detonation engine testing. “I have had the opportunity to expand my research skills and enhance my proficiency in design, modeling and engineering software. The program has served as a transformative introduction to undergraduate research here at UAH, equipping me with the necessary skills and confidence to pursue my career in the aerospace industry.”

Examples of other types of research projects generated through the scholars program run the gamut, topics as varied as developing a self-navigating robot to map disaster regions, enhancing the visibility of LGBTQIA mixed-race experiences or investigating the impact of COVID-19 on older adults in rural Alabama. Online visitors can explore past-year projects at the SCS poster repository.

“These students do amazing work, and thanks to our faculty and research staff who mentor them, for many this will be the start of a journey that will help them to become the next generation of leaders in academia and industry,” Cook notes. “Come to the poster session this fall. I guarantee you’ll be impressed!”

The undergraduate researchers in the program attend six professional development training sessions in areas such as:

  • Research ethics
  • Information literacy
  • Applying for graduate school, scholarships and fellowships
  • Intellectual property
  • Talking about your research
  • Creating a poster

The series also offers writing workshops to assist participants in documenting their research and creating a manuscript if they hope to publish or present their research. The program culminates with the poster session in the fall in which the participants can share their work with the UAH campus and local communities.