UCF is launching two new summer Research Experiences for Undergraduate programs and continuing a third, thanks to new funding from the National Science Foundation.

The programs are designed to encourage select students from around the country to pursue graduate studies and eventually become leaders in their chosen areas of expertise.

Getting REUs is difficult because there is a lot of nationwide competition, but UCF’s ability to land three programs – including one that has been renewed for the 29th consecutive year – is a testament to the quality of the university’s programs.

The renewed program is in computer vision and is the longest-running REU in the nation.

Computer vision seeks to understand images and high-dimensional data to produce numerical data and symbolic information that can help make informed decisions. Applications vary from emergency management to detecting potentially dangerous behavior among crowds.

Since UCF became involved in 1987 with the computer-vision REU, 270 undergraduate students from more than 65 universities around the country have participated.

Undergraduates who have participated in this program have co-authored 79 research papers. Half have gone on to graduate schools, fifteen have written Honors in the Major theses, and several are now faculty members at different universities.

“Students get to have a close relationship with their mentors and have a chance to understand the lifelong career path that leads to becoming a researcher and professor,” said Niels Lobo, an associate professor in computer science who assists with the summer program. “The REU is a small microcosm of the whole process and allows them to experience something similar.” The program is led by Mubarak Shah, associate professor and undergraduate coordinator in the Department of Computer Science.

The other two REUs are new to the university this year and are in areas that are exploding in terms of advances in the field.

Citizen Science GIS is a program that will give students the opportunity to design research questions with partner organizations in Orlando and Belize. “Students will be collecting data and learning how to use GIS [geographic information systems] and mapping software to apply it to solving real-world problems related to land-use planning, marine debris and disaster issues along the coast of Belize,” said Timothy L. Hawthorne, an assistant professor of GIS in the Department of Sociology, who is principal investigator on the project.

“What is unique with our REU is that we build a research network with students. It’s not just a seven-week program here in Orlando or Belize,” Hawthorne said. “What we do in this three-year program is help students build a large research support network that can open the doors to bigger and better opportunities down the road.”

UCF’s Department of Sociology and the new GIS Cluster Initiative is providing support for the project that drew 365 applicants from all over the country for eight openings. Sociology major Amanda Ashby was the only UCF student selected.

“I have always found human interactions and relationships incredibly interesting,” Ashby said. “After taking Dr. Hawthorne’s Introduction to GIS class last year, I learned that I could incorporate a growing industry into my work in sociology. When I found out about the Belize REU I knew that I needed to apply because, if I were chosen, my life would change substantially.”

The Internet of Things is UCF’s third REU. Ten undergraduates from around the nation will engage in an intensive 10-week summer experience.

Students will learn about the emerging field of Internet of Things, a network of physical objects such as phones, vehicles, buildings and other devices that are embedded with electronics, sensors, software and network connectivity that enables them to collect and exchange data.

UCF will train undergraduate students in research-based theory and applications of the technologies used in the field. Undergraduates will conduct research in groups under the supervision of faculty with expertise in security, privacy, hardware design, data analytics, healthcare simulations, and social computing.

UCF participates in REUs to build the next generation of researchers by preparing them for the transition from undergraduate life to graduate school or the workforce.

In addition to hands-on experience on research projects, UCF’s programs help prepare students transition by offering various workshops and seminars, said Damla Turgut, associate professor in the UCF Department of Computer Science and an REU faculty mentor. Some of the seminars are with various industries, computer science programming students and the award-winning UCF Cybersecurity Defense student team