The students spent six weeks researching, participating in workshops and going through different stages of evaluation. Some students even participated in several projects, learning how to multi-task and gaining real-world experience.
“This is used as a starting point to raise awareness and for future work,” said student Shelsa Marcel, who worked on many projects, including one about the invasive lionfish.
Marc Boumedine, associate professor of computer science at UVI, said the projects are not specifically for the Virgin Islands, but almost all of the students showed interest in projects that will ultimately benefit the territory.
UVI student Sandra Daniel, who designed a computer program to combat website “intruders,” wants to implement the program with the local government and eventually work with them on cyber security.
Students Lauritz David, who wants to be a robotics engineer, and Samuel Williams, who wants to be an electrical engineer, created a computer program for universities to schedule classes for each semester. They were excited to gain real-world experience and to possibly sell the program to UVI, where scheduling is done by hand, and earn funds for graduate school.
Some students, such as Heather Gaston, who did a project on coral diseases, and Anthonio Forbes, who did a project on sediments in water, concentrated on marine life in the territory. Both students geared their projects towards protecting the fragile ecosystem throughout the region.
The students met with organizers and mentors once a week to give an update on their projects and to receive feedback. Some students have results that can be published, and some will continue their projects into the next school year, even attending national conferences where they will compete with hundreds of students from all over the United States.
Boumedine noted the summer symposium is only one component of the program which is part of a bigger grant to recruit, retain and prepare students for careers in math and science.
"They learned lots of skills beyond research," said Teresa Turner, professor of marine biology. "They get to know each other as things are developing and there’s a lot of exposure with other students.”
The students go to different workshops such as abstract writing, poster design and research ethics to learn other skills they’ll need in professional careers. Several receive a stipend from the National Science Foundation for their work.
“The program helps with confidence, self-esteem. They learn how to communicate and present themselves as we expect from researchers. They build skills that are transferable,” said Boumedine.
“When they start, they’re shy and don’t have any idea. They go through this process and you see a transformation,” he added.
The summer symposium is organized by the Emerging Caribbean Scientists program and is sponsored by the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.