School of Computing partners with TRIO program to support first-year STEM students

Nov 28, 2022      By Victoria Grdina

UBMS scholar Justin Nguyen and professor Byrav Ramamurthy display the Raspberry Pi hardware used in the group's summer project.
UBMS scholar Justin Nguyen and professor Byrav Ramamurthy display the Raspberry Pi hardware used in the group's summer project.

This past summer, a group of School of Computing faculty and students teamed up with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s TRIO Programs to offer research opportunities and mentorship to high school students through the Upward Bound Math-Science Program (UBMS).   

School of Computing director Marilyn Wolf and professors Byrav Ramamurthy and Mehmet Can Vuran served as research mentors to high school students and incoming freshmen Justin Nguyen, Samuel Otto, and Kevin Tran.

“This is a great program to welcome talented students to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and introduce them to ongoing research projects,” Ramamurthy said. “It was gratifying to see the students present their projects successfully at the end of the summer.”

Nebraska TRIO Programs are federally-funded outreach programs that offer academic, social, cultural, and financial support for first-generation college students and under-served scholars. TRIO’s UBMS Program aims to strengthen the math and science skills of participating students, provide continuity in the context of research engagement, and increase retention and graduation rates. 

“STEM is important. We need all the STEM students we can get,” Wolf said. “This is a way for us to provide them with an on-ramp into college life.”

UBMS Program director, biology instructor, and TRIO Scholars Program science specialist Marianna Burks played an instrumental role in establishing the program after she and her colleagues began identifying disparities among minority and underrepresented students not only in STEM disciplines, but also in STEM experiences. 

“During COVID, and especially within academia, we became intentional about how to initiate a program focused on creating opportunities for incoming students in STEM,” Burks said. 

Burks and School of Biological Sciences associate professor Kristi Montooth piloted their first UBMS Summer Bridge Scholars program in the summer of 2021 with a cohort of nine students, which expanded to 12 students in 2022. The two sought to offer students an opportunity that was both educational and personally meaningful. 

“What has made our program so exceptional is that we focus to develop each student individually and form a true community of support that connects each student to each other and to us,” Burks said. “Truly, it is the community of resources and support for our students that develops their sense of belonging.” 

That sense of connection is initially established through the UBMS program’s unique Summer Research Bridge Experience. Summer Bridge Scholars are matched and placed in an 8-week paid summer research internship where they work with assigned lab personnel on research activities. Scholars are paired with a designated research mentor who oversees their internship and final project presentation, then later assists with identifying future research opportunities. Students also spend time together as a cohort sharing and discussing their research findings and insights.  

“What has made a positive impact on our participating students is that they know who they can come to or reach out to if they experience any challenges, which is any member of our program team,” Burks said. “Also, because they have experienced a summer on campus within their respective summer research departments, they are more comfortable with starting their freshman fall semester.” 

Through support from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF-EPSCoR), the program team hopes to continue to expand its efforts and collaborate with more university STEM departments and programs like the School of Computing. 

Those with questions or interest in collaborating with the UBMS program should contact Marianna Burks,