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Two UNG students earn summer research internships

February 25, 2018

University of North Georgia (UNG) senior Lydia Skolrood's favorite place is the chemistry lab. And her favorite thing to do is research.

Following her May graduation, Skolrood, 21, from Gainesville, Georgia, will spend time conducting research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee for 10 weeks this summer. Skolrood, a chemistry major, earned a spot in the prestigious Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, which is sponsored and managed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"This is a highly competitive program," said Dr. Royce Dansby-Sparks, associate professor of chemistry at UNG. "Her invitation to the program shows how our students can be competitive in research. It's a good reflection on the university."

Skolrood is the fourth UNG student to receive a SULI with the Department of Energy. In spring 2017, UNG graduates Katie McCullough, Kimberly Wright and Sonia Alcantar were awarded SULIs to study at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. 

Another UNG student exhibiting excellence is Stefen Gray, a junior majoring in environmental spatial analysis with a specialization in geographic information systems (GIS). He recently earned a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York.

Gray, a 20-year-old from Peachtree City, Georgia, will spend 10 weeks at RIT developing two-dimensional and three-dimensional GIS tools for disaster relief.

"I'm excited for the work," said Gray, who plans to use his minor in computer science.

The project's objectives are to enable students to research, create and evaluate serious GIS games for disaster resilience spatial thinking; and create and evaluate an interdisciplinary STEM research environment at the intersections of GIS, disaster management, information technology (IT), social science and game development, according to the RIT website.

Gray explained a serious GIS game is a game with no entertainment value but has several practical uses.

"I'm excited about the game aspect because I'm getting a minor in computer science and I didn't think I would be able to use it that much in GIS," he said.

He is also looking forward to meeting his seven other teammates, who comprise the cohort.

"I'm hoping to get some more teamwork skills with people I haven't met before," he said. "And I hope to come away with workable product and technical skills."

Skolrood hopes her SULI program will help her build relations with the researchers at Oak Ridge that will continue through to graduate school.

"I also hope to gain a lot of experience of working with things I don't have experience in, such as the technology, publications and the researchers," she said, explaining she will work in materials research. "I will be working on the actual deposition and coating of materials."

Dansby-Sparks wants Skolrood to take advantage of the mentorship portion of the program as well. He said he benefitted from it when he participated in SULI program as an undergraduate student.

"My mentor — who was also a participant in SULI — was instrumental in me earning my doctorate in science," Dansby-Sparks said, adding the program leads to more students making careers in the scientific field. "Getting students excited and exposing them to scientific research shows that the SULI program works. It is inspiration for the next generation of scientists."

Students interested in learning more about REUs, email Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.

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