TEES partners with SwRI on graduate student research experience program

November 29, 2016
| By: Amy Klinkovsky

For the past three years, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has partnered with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) to invite select graduate students from across The Texas A&M University System to participate in the Graduate Student Research Experience (GSRE). GSRE is a part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Coordination Network — Climate, Energy, Environment and Engagement in Semi-Arid Regions (RCN CE3SAR) multi-year grant awarded to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a regional division of TEES.

Dr. Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research, commercialization and outreach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, is the principal investigator for the grant that not only supports the GSRE, but also establishes deeper and more extensive research relationships to address the critical water and coastal issues in South Texas while researching the nexus between water, energy and food.

“The GSRE has promoted research collaboration among RCN CE3SAR institutions and improved the work and resumes of our students,” said Cifuentes. “Dr. [Wesley] Patrick’s leadership at SwRI and Cindy Wall’s involvement at TEES made it possible to successfully implement the GSRE. Although the RCN CE3SAR project ends in June 2017, we are looking for other sources of funds to sustain it.”

SwRI is a private, non-profit organization with a particular interest in applied research and development. Dr. Wesley Patrick, vice president of SwRI’s Geosciences and Engineering Division, said they wanted to be the GSRE location so graduate students would have a commercial research and development experience to complement the academic one they receive in the typical pursuit of their degrees. In order to be eligible for a GSRE assignment, graduate students first participated in an externship at SwRI where they learned about the available research opportunities in several divisions of SwRI. This year, more than 40 students participated in the externship and 12 students applied to the GSRE program. 

“The first two years of the GSRE, SwRI provided mentorship for two graduate students; but this year, we selected five,” said Patrick.  “It’s worth the investment of time from our perspective. The students were interested in the work being done at SwRI and made really strong connections with their SwRI mentors — relationships that are maintained beyond the completion of GSRE.

“I see the students come in with bright ideas, and I see firsthand how their new and creative thinking has a place in the world,” he said. “There are so many responsible companies and firms today that care not just about the bottom line, but about the communities where they live and work. The GSRE students experience what it is like to put their academic endeavors into practice in order to have a real impact on industry and in communities. We hope they’ll complete the internships with a desire to work for companies that do well economically while servicing a fragile world in meaningful ways.”

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