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July-August 2004

No day at the beach:
SOARS protégés tackle research projects

The temperature on the eastern plains was in the 90s a few weeks ago as SOARS protégé Nancy Rivera Rivera and her mentor, Leslie Hartten of CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), trekked through fields of thistles under the midday sun. They’d driven out to the Platteville Atmospheric Observatory south of Greeley just so Nancy could get a first-hand view of a dozen or so radars and listen to Leslie and her colleague, Dave Carter (NOAA), explain how they work. “We joke that you can make an antenna out of anything metal, even a Pringles can,” Leslie told her.

melanie zauscher

Protégé Melanie Zauscher.

So much for students spending hot summer days on the beach. As usual, this year’s SOARS protégés have their hands full with datasets, radars, fieldwork, travel, and much more. This is in addition to writing workshops, oral presentations, and computer training sessions.

“SOARS is a demanding program, and it’s exciting to see the protégés working with their mentors to get the most out of this experience,” says SOARS director Raj Pandya.

SOARS, which stands for Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science, provides research opportunities to promising undergraduates across the country and Puerto Rico who come from African American, Latino, Native American, or other traditionally underserved communities. The high point of the year-round activities comes each summer, when the program offers 10-week, paid internships for about two dozen students to conduct research projects with scientists at NCAR and other organizations.

There are 24 protégés this summer. Some, like Shanna-Shaye Forbes from the University of Houston, are new to the program. “My project has been a challenge at times and there have definitely been occasions when I’ve wondered if I will be able to complete all aspects in the time allotted,” says Shanna-Shaye, who is developing a procedure for software testing using synthetic data. “But I’ve also had moments when I’ve done happy dances because my computer program works. And I have a wonderful group of mentors and returning protégés who are genuinely concerned about my progress on my project and also my emotional well-being.”
Others, like Matt Coleman, a graduate student at The Pennsylvania State University, are SOARS veterans who are fine-tuning their career plans. “Over the past year, I’ve decided that I want to pursue a career where I can mix my science knowledge with business practices, most likely as an environmental consultant,” Matt says. “SOARS has allowed me to follow this path by letting me work with ESIG this summer.”

Unusual challenges

Atzel Drevón, another returning SOARS protégé, broke his leg three days before he was to fly from his home in Puerto Rico to Boulder. After surgery, his doctor ordered him not to travel for six weeks, which meant that he would miss the first part of the

Atzel Drevon

Atzel Drevón (left) and CGD’s Dave Schimel.

summer program. Atzel and his mentors used a variety of online tools, including a new collaborative Web-based workspace called a “swiki,” for him to get started on his research project.

He needed to take part in the June 24 seminar during which protégés present their summer research proposals. With the help of Darin Oman in SCD’s Visualization and Enabling Technologies Section (VETS), Atzel was able to attend the seminar via AccessGrid. This framework of network and computing resources that uses multicast technology to allow people in different locations to see and speak to each other in real time.

Not only was Atzel able to defend his proposal through AccessGrid, listen to presentations, and ask and answer questions, but he even showed off his cast. “It was a great collaboration between SCD, SOARS, and EO,” says VETS manager Don Middleton. “We used emerging collaboration technology to keep the protégés in touch with their peers and program. Cool stuff!”

Other than Atzel, Amber Reynolds is the only protégé to work offsite this summer. Amber is at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, with her mentor, Dave Dowell. “I came out to Oklahoma early to take advantage of the storm-chasing season,” Amber says. In June, she had the chance to work on the Radar Observations of Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Experiment (ROTATE-2004) field project and get experience with the Doppler on Wheels mobile radars.

Although they’re not working offsite, Dee Rossiter and Erick Adame traveled far from Boulder for 12 days in July. They went to Japan and Taiwan as part of an NCAR summer colloquium, Atmospheric Remote Sensing Using the Global Positioning System, hosted by ASP and COSMIC. Along with a small group of other students from the United States, Dee and Erick toured GPS and remote sensing facilities in both countries, watched scientists assemble COSMIC satellites, and shared research with Japanese and Taiwanese scientists and students.

“The main purpose of the trip was to get young students to realize how important international relationships are for science,” Dee explains. “It was the best thing I’ve done in my life and I didn’t want to come back.”

They also found time to meet locals and visit markets and other tourist attractions. “Aside from the learning, the best thing for me was experiencing the culture,” Erick says.

About 70 volunteers, mainly from UCAR but also from other institutions like NOAA and CIRES, donate their time to SOARS protégés as science, writing, and community mentors.

Damian Mattis

Damian Mattis (left) with ACD’s Jim Smith.

“I like to explain concepts to people in everyday language or to someone who hasn’t been in the field as long as I have,” says Peggy LeMone (MMM), who is in her fourth year as a science mentor and has served on the SOARS steering committee for eight years. “This forces you to examine assumptions that you take for granted talking to colleagues, assumptions that might not be valid. It also forces you to think about things in different ways, because people understand things in different ways.”

The SOARS Colloquium, during which protégés will present the results of their summer research projects, will take place August 9-11 in the Mesa Lab main seminar room and Foothills 2 auditorium. •Nicole Gordon

On the Web:

More about SOARS

Also in this issue...

A pair of sixes: NCAR bolsters its scientific staff

Coping with heat

Over the hill and picking up speed

Child's play

Delphi Questions

New Leaders

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