Summering at Columbia, an Experience Rich in Hands-On STEM

The Columbia University Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program welcomed 41 students to campus with a unique opportunity to expand their knowledge of science and engineering.

Aug 14 2023 | By Hangyu Fan | Photo Credit: Chris Taggart

For a cohort of students at Columbia Engineering, gaining hands-on STEM experience sat at the top of their summer to-do list.

This year’s class of 41 students came to Columbia in June to spend 10 weeks as fellows in the Columbia University Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, now in its third year. The SURE program aims to expand opportunities in STEM by encouraging a broad group of undergraduate students from colleges and universities across the U.S. to explore a range of engineering disciplines that they otherwise would not have access to at their current institution. The program particularly encourages participation from underrepresented minorities in STEM and female-identifying students to inspire interest in graduate school in engineering and science.

The intensive program at Columbia allowed students to engage in their own research projects, work alongside in the lab with faculty and graduate student mentors, attend lectures, and partake in career- and skill-building workshops. The program culminated in a symposium held on August 2 in Columbia Engineering’s Carleton Commons where students showcased their work during two poster sessions and presentations. 

The symposium included welcome remarks from Columbia Engineering Dean Shih-Fu Chang who expressed his excitement to learn more about what the students have been working on this summer. He also shared that it has been wonderful to hear the positive feedback from SURE alumni who have mentioned how valuable the experience has been for them. He added, “Whatever your future plans–the people you have met [here], the friends you have made, the mentors who have guided you–will be an invaluable resource to you in the years to come, no matter which direction you decide to go.”

SURE fellow, Shivi Jindal, a rising junior at Carnegie Mellon University, sought out a program like SURE because of her interest in pursuing graduate studies in engineering. This summer she worked on machine learning and signal processing research with faculty and mentors at the Data Science Institute and the Department of Electrical Engineering.

Said Jindal, “I had a great experience with my mentors, who were very supportive of my work throughout [the entire program].” 

She noted the significant number of women in this program and felt “very fortunate” to have a chance to work with them on her research.

Another SURE fellow, Julian Kim, who is a mechanical engineering student at State College, Pennsylvania, first heard about SURE from a senior at his school who attended the program in 2022. Kim credits SURE for introducing him to new computing programs and for the hands-on experience in prototype building.

SURE launched three years ago with just 22 students. This year’s class included students from as far west as the University of California-Los Angeles and as east as the University of Maine.

The end-of-year symposium concluded with an awards ceremony, spotlighting SURE fellows and their outstanding research. Awardees included the following SURE fellows: Anjeli Santillan (Best Poster, Group A); Steven Robles Blasini (Best Presentation, Group A); Mia Minaya (Best Presentation, Group B); and Zahidul Zahin (Best Poster, Group B).

The SURE program is directed by Columbia Engineering’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in close partnership with Amazon Science, which provides financial support and hosts a site visit at Amazon’s New York City offices; the day-long visit includes team building exercises, a panel and networking opportunities for the fellows. This year, the SURE program also received support  from new partners, global engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti and Columbia’s Center for Smart Streetscapes.

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