Science Report: Education and Outreach

Science Report: Education and Outreach

Amanda Voye
February 06, 2012

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The Center’s Education and Outreach group provides programs and resources to help broaden the understanding of current issues in bioenergy for the general public, and students and educators at the K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels.

When Jillian Foerster started her freshman year at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, she knew that majoring in cell and molecular biology would open up several avenues for research exploration. What she didn’t know is that she would end up in Wisconsin studying biofuels. 

“[With this major], you could do all these different things. You could go make wine. You could go into bioinformatics,” she says. “One of the things that interested me the most was renewable fuels. So, I just sat at the computer and Googled bioenergy internships.”

When she landed on the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program offered by GLRBC, Foerster applied right away.

The REU programs, offered at the UW-Madison and MSU, provide a cutting-edge research experience to undergraduate students interested in renewable energy.

Each summer students participate in hands-on, contemporary bioenergy research with GLBRC scientists in the field or lab. They explore a wide range of topics including sustainability, biofuel production and considerations that are driving interest in new bioenergy technologies.

By experiencing the research firsthand, conducting their own experiments, students are exposed to the process and culture of large-scale science.

“One of the biggest things I learned at the REU program is that scale of research and how it works,” Foerster says.

Gina Lewin, a summer 2009 REU student, is now a research assistant and graduate student working for the GLBRC and continuing her education in microbiology.

“I went to a small undergrad school that had a lot of research, but nothing like they have here,” Lewin says. “For me the REU program was a really good chance to experience what research was like at a big institution and try to figure out if I was interested in grad school.”

Last summer, four students from around the country traveled to Madison to participate in the bioenergy REU. They spent ten weeks working with GLBRC mentors to complete cutting-edge research in the field.

In addition to providing a unique research experience, the REU program also emphasizes the ability to think critically. As Foerster researched the very specific science of root architecture and lodging, she also participated in discussions with other students about broader topics, giving her the ability to think critically and talk about big picture science.

“I can say with confidence, that I would not be in grad school if I had not gone to this program,” Forester says.