The UW MRSEC and University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM) have a history of sustained interaction that has positively impacted the participation of Hispanic people in materials science and engineering at all levels of the pipeline, from K-12 through faculty. The partnership is grounded in research collaborations between faculty members at both universities, and includes several UPRM faculty members who have received PhDs in engineering at UW-Madison (Yomaira Pagan Torres, Patricia Ortiz Bermudez, Nelson Cardona Martinez, Maribella Domenech, Garcia, and others). The partnership was supported from 2009-2014 through a Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grant.
Since the completion of the PREM grant, the UW and UPRM have continued a dynamic and productive relationship that extends to both research and education. Ongoing research collaborations continue between faculty at UPRM and UW including projects on: polymers as targeted antimicrobial agents, liquid crystalline elastomers and gels, and multifunctional nanoporous materials. In Education, UPRM and UW partner to provide authentic research experiences to high school teachers and undergraduate students. The cross-cultural Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program gives teachers from Wisconsin and Puerto Rico the opportunity to work in a research laboratory under the mentorship of a UW MRSEC or UPRM faculty member and a graduate student or postdoctoral associate. The RET participants and their mentors co-develop a classroom curriculum module that the teacher implements and evaluates in their own classroom. The summer program ends with a capstone week program where the teachers meet face-to-face at one of the two sites to share their research experiences and present their modules to each other. In the 2016 program, the MRSEC is funding 3 teachers at UW and 2 at UPRM; capstone week will be held in Madison, WI. In addition, both the UW MRSEC and UPRM host undergraduates through their and Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. The UPRM program began in 2014 and uses many of the best practices developed in the UW MRSEC REU program. In 2015 and 2016, a total of 20 students from UPRM participated in the REU program.
The NSF-funded Wisconsin-Puerto Rico Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (Wi(PR)2EM) established a vibrant educational and outreach effort to excite and stimulate the interest of K-12 Hispanic and other audiences to STEM fields through state-of-the-art advances in materials science, and developed and validated a series of creative college-level programs, all of which aim to recruit, nurture, and retain students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM disciplines. The education, outreach, and dissemination activities were built upon infrastructure and platforms established through the UW’s MRSEC and Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) and the internationally acclaimed Science on Wheels (SONW) Educational Center. A variety of education and outreach activities were arranged by the Wi(PR)2EM, including informal science and engineering education activities such as NanoDays at the Mayagüez Mall (over 9,500 participants, almost all Hispanics) and Science Shows.
Formal educational activities for teachers and K-12 students included the RET site Cross-Cultural Connections: An RET Site Program with UPRM and UW (EEC-0908782, $300,000 – 06/15/10 to 05/31/14 Cardona-Martínez was Co-PI) (26 teachers, 9 Hispanics, 21 women), 11 workshops for teachers (230 teachers, all Hispanics), and 29 visits to schools (850 Hispanic K-12 students), three crystallization competitions (200 Hispanic K-12 students), plus follow-up activities organized by SONW related to materials science and engineering and nanotechnology. Our collaborative research and education projects emphasized the concept of a learning community in which graduate and undergraduate students learn together with the researchers while participating in interdisciplinary nanomaterials-related projects that include combinations of synthesis, characterization and theory. These initiatives helped in building and sustaining the pipeline, as evidenced by the fact that 85 undergraduate students that received support or were affiliated (42% women, 93% Hispanic and US URM) participated in undergraduate research and EOT activities mentored by 48 graduate students of which 24 were supported by the Wi(PR)2EM (42% women, 83% Hispanic, 71% US URM).
The partnership developed between UPRM and UW based on the PREM has also had a tremendously positive impact on the breadth of opportunities and experiences offered to students, postdocs, faculty and staff at UW, as well as the industrial community in the upper Midwest through the participation of PREM faculty and students in the UW Advanced Materials Industrial Consortium (AMIC). For example, both graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at UW have been presented with opportunities to work on collaborative research projects with their peers at UPRM, both by hosting UPRM students in Madison as well as through travel to UPRM to perform research and give seminars (and participate in outreach events in Mayagüez such as NanoDays). Significantly, key advances in research at UW (such as the discovery of hierarchically structured colloid-in-liquid crystal gels as well as the first experiments involving self-propelled Janus particles at liquid crystal interfaces) were achieved by UPRM graduate and undergraduate students while working with their peers in Madison. These accomplishments would not have been realized without the involvement of UPRM students in research at UW. In addition, the diversity of views and experiences shared during MRSEC-coordinated Professional Development Seminars in Madison has been greatly expanded by the inclusion (via a weblink) of students from UPRM. Another significant benefit of the partnership between UPRM and UW has been realized in the context of industry interactions from the MRSEC in Madison. Specifically, the annual meetings of AMIC, which have had an attendance of ~70 industry representatives, have included participation of seven UPRM graduate students, thus providing upper Midwest industry the opportunity to network with (and recruit) from a more diverse population of students than is present at UW. Finally, as detailed in other parts of this proposal, cornerstones of the PREM partnership include the REU and RET programs that leverage the human resources and environments of both campuses to expand opportunities for undergraduates and teachers. These programs have provided undergraduates as well as teachers from both communities with culturally diverse experiences, including, specifically for teachers, the opportunity to visit and interact with their peers from the partner communities. One metric of success of the REU program, in particular, is the large number of participants in the program that have continued to graduate school, including at UW-Madison, thus adding to the diversity of the graduate student population at UW (currently, 12 graduate students in the UW College of Engineering received undergraduate degrees from UPRM). Gratifyingly, four graduate students who received their PhDs from UW have returned to UPRM and are now serving as role models within the academic community in Mayagüez.