Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Science and Mathematics Educational Research Collaborative, an interdisciplinary Discipline-Based Education Research group, will host a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program this year.

Ten accepted students will be involved in mentored-research projects in Multidisciplinary Research on Student Success in STEM at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Accepted students will be part of a vibrant community of education researchers and contribute to publishable research in STEM Education Research.

What is STEM Education Research?

STEM Education Research is conducted by experts in a scientific field who apply a combination of scientific disciplinary expertise, educational and social-science research methods, and findings from the cognitive and neurosciences to investigate questions about undergraduate learning within a scientific field. The broad goals of this field of research are to:

  1. understand how people learn the concepts, practices, and ways of thinking of science,
  2. understand the nature and development of expertise in a discipline,
  3. identify and measure appropriate learning objectives and instructional approaches that advance students toward those objectives,
  4. contribute to the knowledge base in a way that can guide the translation of findings to classroom practice, and
  5. identify approaches to make science and engineering education broad and inclusive.

Will I Have a Project Mentor?

Yes! During the program students will engage in rigorous education research projects with the support and collaboration of research mentors. Through a variety of activities we will build and support students’ research, communication and professional skills to help prepare them for STEM Education Research Ph.D. programs and careers. We will introduce our potential future educators to teaching, learning, and assessment of the core scientific practice of modeling. Students in this program will disseminate their findings at conferences and through scholarly publications. 

Program at a Glance

We expect to be able to be able to offer our REU program for this upcoming year (Summer 2023) in person.

The application deadline is February 12th, 2023.

During this time you will meet your project mentor using video chat and email to establish a research question of mutual interest, begin background research on your project, and take part in research ethics training. Time commitment is about 30 hours total during the spring semester preceding the summer on-site experience. This session will run March 13th to April 21st.

Summer Program Starts: Monday, June 5 (students arrive at RIT on Sunday, June 4)
Last Day of the Summer Program: Friday, August 4 (students depart RIT on Saturday, August 5)

The summer program will run for nine weeks. A $6,000 stipend will be provided for the entire research experience, including both Spring Forward and Summer sessions. If the program runs in-person on the RIT campus, the nine weeks of housing at RIT’s University Commons will be provided at no additional cost to participants. Some funds are also available for travel to Rochester. All participants must provide proof of COVID vaccination before arrival.

In addition to working on a mentored-research project, our program also includes:

Throughout the summer you will participate in a weekly STEM education research methods workshop to learn about and practice the quantitative and qualitative methods used in STEM Education Research. You will also take part in a weekly Professional Development workshop focusing on areas such as the graduate school application process, STEM career pathways, scientific communication, and networking skills.

Cohort-building Activities
In addition to the structured workshops and ongoing research, you will have the chance to participate in a number of social activities and a weekly students-only session with the STEM Education Research REU cohort. If the program can be run in-person you will also have the chance to meet and interact with many other on-campus students during the summer.

Participation in a Research Symposium
At the end of the summer you will take part in our annual Research Symposium. Students will present their work in a professional and engaging format.

The REU is hosted by the Science and Mathematics Education Research Collaborative at RIT. Questions? Contact us at

Follow us on Facebook for the latest DBER REU News and Events!

REU Mentors

Dr. Jennifer Bailey, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Dr. Scott Franklin, School of Physics and Astronomy
Dr. Christina Goudreau Collison, School of Chemistry and Materials Science
Dr. Dina Newman, School of Life Sciences
Dr. Tony Wong, School of Mathematical Sciences
Dr. Kate Wright, School of Life Sciences
Dr. Ben Zwickl, School of Physics and Astronomy

Mentored Research Projects

Mentors: Dr. Bailey, Dr. Newman, and Dr. Wright
Student Background needed: any STEM background which will guide the specific topic explored.

Description: Hands-on activities and manipulative learning tools aid in student’s education. These activities both require some foundation in as well as promote growth of spatial visualization and reasoning skills. A student’s ability to use these skills are critical and, maybe more important, are learnable. This project aims to understand where students’ visualization skill sets currently are, and what the most effective methods are to improve them in a discipline-focus context. For example, what strategies does a learner use to mentally rotate an image of a molecule? Can learners recognize different perspectives of the same molecule?

Student involvement in project: Develop and test new activities that help researchers understand how students think and/or help students learn spatial reasoning skills. Interview/observe students as they work through spatial reasoning tasks. Possible development/pilot of a new assessment tool.

Mentors: Dr. Newman, Dr. Wright
Student Background needed: Biology or biology- related major

Description: Card sorting tasks are useful as a window into how people organize information in their minds. We have developed a set of cards with images of DNA that differ by style of drawing and topic. As learners gain experience, their sorting of images relies less on surface features (style) and more on conceptual knowledge (topic). This tool can now be used to further explore student thinking and reveal gaps in knowledge. We can also develop new card sorting activities for understanding student conceptualization of other things, such as protein structure/function or whether students can differentiate between protein and nucleic acids.

Student involvement in project: Develop and test new assessments based on visual representations of concepts in molecular biology, develop surveys or activities about visual representations. Interview/observe students participating in these tasks.

Mentors: Dr. Newman, Dr. Wright
Student Background needed: Biology or biology-related major

Description: Genetics is a difficult subject for students since the mechanisms are only indirectly observable, and we must rely on abstract or simplistic visual representations for learners to visualize these complex processes. We hypothesize that students who focus on the underlying molecular process (e.g. transcription, translation, interactions of molecules) rather than the outcome (e.g. observable traits) have more expert-like reasoning abilities and therefore have a higher success rate in more advanced courses. To study this question, we are examining course artifacts and interview data. A related question is whether certain terms (e.g., gene expression), promote retrieval of inappropriate information, and thereby hinder learning. We are also interested in developing new activities that promote thinking about process rather than focusing on outcome.

Student involvement in project: Analysis of student work/grades on genetics-related activities, interviews with students working through genetics problems, development of new activities/assessments to better understand how students think on the mechanistic level.

Mentors: Dr. Newman, Dr. Wright
Student Background needed: Biology or biology-related major

Description: Concepts in molecular biology and genetics can be very challenging for learners. Due to the enormity of biology-related vocabulary that students must learn in their studies, students can often recognize and use a term correctly, while still having a shaky understanding of what that term actually means. The same can be said for common symbols and representations in fields of molecular biology and genetics. Learners may be able to identify a symbol without really understanding what it means. In this exploratory project, we seek to understand the ideas learners hold about symbols, representations and/or terminology in molecular biology and genetics through student-generated drawings. Asking learners to draw their ideas can be a window into their thinking and data collected may help us uncover how students are deciphering and thinking about complex ideas in molecular biology and genetics.

Student involvement in project: Develop and conduct interviews with learners and experts. Qualitative analysis of drawings and other student-generated artifacts. Develop and test activities to promote learning on topics related to molecular biology and genetics.

Mentors: Dr. Bailey, Dr. Wong
Student Background needed: statistics and programming are preferred

Description: Courses and curriculum evolve and this can impact how well students are prepared for employment. Biomedical engineering at RIT has a required cooperative education (coop) component with a required employer survey. This project will analyze how significant changes in courses and curriculum impact the students’ readiness for their coop positions.

Student involvement in project: Analyze a large set of data and perform hypothesis testing. Compare to student evaluations and perform follow-up interviews if necessary.

Mentor: Dr. Goudreau
Student Background needed: Having taken organic chemistry is helpful but not necessary. A knowledge of excel.

Description: Reformed Experimental Activities (REActivities) is a novel pedagogy for the delivery of an organic chemistry lab. Understanding the effects of such a pedagogy as it relates to the students' affective and cognitive gains relative to traditional methods is challenging. How does one support that one method of teaching is more beneficial than another? This eight-year endeavor has been slowly piecing together why REActivities is a beneficial method. At present, student survey data on their experiences when learning through REActivities has been collected using a Meaningful Learning in the Lab (MLLI) instrument. The data collected include years prior to, during, and post-Covid. Analysis of what the data means is looming and will be the primary focus of the student(s) on the project. Do the students report more meaningful experiences when using the REActivities method?

Student involvement in project: Data analysis from the previously administered Meaningful Learning in the Lab (MLLI) instrument. Development of new activities/assessments.

Mentor/co-mentors: Dr. Wong and Dr. Zwickl
Student Background needed: Any science or Math major with an interest in applying computation to science problems and some experience with programming

Project Description: Computational skills are essential to modern scientific research and critical in a wide range of science and engineering jobs. Computational literacy is a framework that helps describe the different elements of computational skill development, which includes the application areas, foundational skills, and social practices needed to use computation in science. We are doing research on how computational literacy varies between scientific disciplines and how it can be assessed in classrooms.

Mentor/co-mentors: Dr. Zwickl and Dr. Zohrabi Alaee
Student Background Needed: Physics major

Project Description: This project is broadly exploring three significant decisions that physics majors encounter: 1) whether to pursue particular subfields of physics 2) whether to specialize in particular methods of physics, such as experimentation, computation, and theory, and 3) whether to pursue graduate school or a job after graduation. The project involves analysis of interviews with physics majors from multiple countries in order to understand positive and negative factors that lead to interest formation as well as examine cross-cultural differences. We are also developing quantitative assessments (e.g., surveys) that will allow us to explore these questions on a wider scale.

Project Title: Quantum Information Science Education
Mentor/co-mentors: Dr. Zwickl
Student Background Needed: Physics or related discipline with some prior coursework related to quantum mechanics or quantum computing

Project Description: There is a large global effort to develop new quantum technologies such as quantum computers, quantum sensors and quantum communication. Many universities are starting to develop new courses in quantum information science for a wide range of STEM majors with minimal prerequisites. However, much is unknown about how to effectively teach these ideas to a broad audience. This project will involve identifying common student difficulties and designing and testing new teaching approaches.

Mentor: Dr. Zwickl
Student Background Needed: Physics or Math with an applied focus

Project description: Based on analyses of how theoretical physicists do their research, we are developing and testing new kinds of exercises that relate more directly to the cognitive processes of physicists and also give students more opportunity for creativity and agency in the problem solving process. This project may be especially impactful for upper division and graduate level physics courses, which can be challenging and very abstract.

Mentors: Dr. Franklin
Preferred applicant background: any STEM, experience with diverse identities preferred.

Project Description: This qualitative project interviews faculty and students to investigate who notices discrimination and how. Prior work has shown differences in noticing across racial and gender lines in faculty. This project expands interviews to include students. Coupled with the idea of noticing is that of empathy: how do people interpret what they see and how readily do they consider alternative interpretations and experiences. Interviews will develop protocols to explore how individuals empathize with those around them during episodes of perceived bias, and explore how race, gender and other characteristics impact empathy and action.

Student involvement in project: Analyze and re-code previous interview transcripts through new theoretical lenses. Develop new interview protocols and conduct individual and focus group interviews with students and faculty. Apply emergent coding to interviews, beginning with identifying statements/themes of interest and developing ways to characterize and articulate themes.

Mentors: Dr. Franklin and Dr. Wong
Student Background Needed: Physics, Math or Statistics or any STEM with experience with programming and/or statistical analyses.

Project Description: This quantitative project looks at 10+ years of RIT grade data to identify new ways of investigating student success. A first question is whether students are more successful when taking multiple successive classes with the same classmates (the “cohort” model). By looking at performance as a function of “current previous classmates”, explicitly looking at students that join a program "off-sequence," we seek to identify critical “community-building” courses.

Student involvement in project: Computational analyses, primarily in Python, to develop statistical models of existing Institutional data.


Other Summer Researchers

  • Pedro Cardona
  • Micah Campbell
  • Jonathan Lutzer
  • Micaela Nelson
  • Eugene Ham
  • Paige Daly
  • Julia Biehler

Travel to and Living at RIT

We plan on hosting our 2022 cohort at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Campus. All REU participants must be fully vaccinated by the beginning of the program, per RIT policy.

Travel to RIT

Participants will need to make their own travel arrangements to and from Rochester, NY. Travel funds are available to help defray travel costs.

For students that drive to RIT, parking is available on campus.

The Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) is a 15 minute drive from RIT, and the most convenient airport for coming to Rochester.

Living at RIT

REU participants will live in RIT’s University Commons, a state-of-the-art global living experience and community. Each furnished suite contains four separate bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a common living area complete with kitchenette. Learn more about Global Village 

Laundry Services 
Washer and dryer machines are available for use at no charge. You need to provide your own laundry detergent.

The kitchenette does not include a microwave or coffee machine. 

You will be provided with two flat sheets, two towels, one washcloth and one cotton blanket. You must bring your own pillow.

Additional items 
Think of University Commons as your apartment for 9 weeks, so bring anything that you will need during that time. There are buses to transport you to local shopping centers and the mall so you can also purchase items once you arrive in Rochester.

Participants have several options for purchasing food and meals on campus. For a list of campus restaurants, cafes, and food courts visit RIT Dining Services. Multiple grocery stores and shopping centers are located within 10 minutes from campus for students who prefer to use the kitchenette to prepare meals.

Interested in Applying?

If you would like to apply to our DBER REU program, please click the link below. In the application you will asked to provide the contact information for two individuals who would be able to complete a recommendation survey on your behalf. You will be provided with a link (within the application survey) to send  to them. If you start the survey and exit without finishing and submitting, you will be able to submit an application again, but you will have to start the survey over. Application deadline is February 15th, 2022.

Apply to the REU program


L. Kate Wright

Interim School Head
Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences
College of Science

Principal Investigator

Dina Newman

Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences
College of Science

Co-Principal Investigator