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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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SDSU students Anita Sanchez (left) and Lorelay Mendoza (second to left) are conducting research this summer at the University of California, Berkeley. SDSU students Anita Sanchez (left) and Lorelay Mendoza (second to left) are conducting research this summer at the University of California, Berkeley.

Lessons from the Research Lab, Part 1

SDSU student researchers throughout North America blog about their experiences this summer.
By SDSU News Team

“Conducting research and making new lab friends throughout my first week has brought me great excitement, as has touring the city and finding out where are the popular places to go.”

This summer, several students that participated in San Diego State University’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program are conducting research throughout North America and blogging about their experiences. The MARC program supports students from underrepresented groups as they pursue STEM Ph.D.s and research careers.

Anita Sanchez 
ReNUWIt’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Program 
University of California, Berkeley

According to U.S. News and World Report, the University of California, Berkeley is ranked as the number one graduate school for environmental engineering. Therefore, being accepted as one of the 200 applicants in the ReNUWIt Research Experience for Undergraduates program to conduct summer research is definitely an opportunity I could not pass up. Since I have never left home for more than three days, being away for two months seemed like a lifetime, but I knew it was a change I needed. I was happy to find out that one of my lab mates and good friend, Lorelay Mendoza, was accepted into the summer research program, as well. Since I was not familiar with the Bay Area, I knew she would help me navigate my way around the campus and city. 

From my first day in Dr. Lisa Alvarez-Cohen’s lab, asking questions and critical thinking have been skills of the utmost importance. My mentor, graduate student Jennifer Lawrence, and I set up a plan for the two months that I will be conducting research with her. I immediately liked her ambition and attitude. I knew that she was the type of mentor that I needed and could see myself working successfully with. By my second day, we were already working to create the set-up for our experiment in the lab. 

My project for the summer is focused on energy-positive wastewater treatment and resource recovery. Therefore, I will be examining anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox), a biological treatment process meant to remove reactive nitrogen from wastewater effluent. Since anammox is an improved and efficient method compared to conventional nitrification and denitrification processes, this is currently a hot topic in the environmental engineering world. I know that with Jennifer as my mentor, I will learn what it takes to become a successful graduate student and researcher. 

Conducting research and making new lab friends throughout my first week has brought me great excitement, as has touring the city and finding out where are the popular places to go. Aside from trying out a couple really good Indian and Thai food places, two of the other REU summer interns and I explored a rock climbing gym near Berkeley. Hopefully, within the next weeks that I’m in the Bay Area, I’ll be able to check out San Francisco.

Lorelay Mendoza
ReNUWIt’s Research Experience for Undergraduates Program 
University of California, Berkeley 

During my first weekend in the Bay Area, I took a motorcycle safety course, where I learned the basics of riding. When I started the first day, I didn’t even know how to turn the bike on. Soon enough, though, I was handling turns and other maneuvers pretty well—except for the instance where I dropped the bike, but we don’t speak of such things. It has been a goal of mine to get a motorcycle license, and being away from home for the summer has not deterred me.

I have spent two weeks in Berkeley so far, and it has been a fantastic learning experience already. I am participating in a summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) called Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). This program operates in  four campuses: Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State University, Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Coincidentally, my SDSU lab mate and dear friend, Anita Sanchez, was also selected for the program at Berkeley, so it’s as though I brought a piece of home with me.

VIDEO: Scholarship Impact on Undergraduate Research 

The main objective of the program is to improve the way we manage urban water, specifically enhancing the efficiency of water distribution systems, water and wastewater treatment plants, and other systems. My project this summer studies the microbial water quality of intermittent water supply, which is water that is not running 24/7. This is a critical issue in developing countries, but also happens on a smaller scale in the United States. For example, our kitchen sinks aren’t always running, which means the water in the pipes have had some time to sit. There aren’t a whole lot of studies that look into the microbial ecology of drinking water pipes, so we aim to fill that knowledge gap.

When I am not in the lab, Anita and I hang out with the other two Berkeley REUs. Tvetene studies civil engineering at the University of Alaska Anchorage (he would like you all to know that he is enjoying sleeping in the dark here in California), and Mhara is a chemical engineering student at Oregon State University. We have rock-climbed together and hiked to see beautiful views of the bay, but lately our favorite way to spend time together is taking walks after dinner and eating loquats off the trees in people’s front yards.

Citlay Villasenor
CSU-LSAMP Summer Research Training Expedition
San Jose, Costa Rica

In the days before I left for Costa Rica, I began to get nervous about leaving the country without any family or friends. When I arrived at LAX airport, I saw backpacks with familiar tagging from our research group, and luckily I saw a familiar face. Everyone was very friendly and I was looking forward to spending the next five weeks with our group. 

When I wasn't trying to sleep on the plane, I was thinking about whether I packed enough clothes or brought the right supplies. I was thinking about what kind of biodiversity research project I might want to develop in Costa Rica. One of my goals for this trip is to become familiar with the wildlife in Costa Rica. 

Costa Rica has more ecological diversity than San Diego, so I am really looking forward to learning as much as I can. Although I have only been here for less than a day, it has been an eye-opening experience already. There are so many shades of green here and everyone is very friendly. The streets I have seen tend to have canals between them and the sidewalk, which I believe helps prevent flooding during storms. 

There are so many buses and cars, but I have not smelled any with dirty oil, which proves how important the environment is to Costa Ricans. There is no army here, which means that more money can be spent on education, health care and ecological conservation. We are staying in Hotel Cacts, which has the nicest staff ever. The main cook's daughter was with our group drawing pictures of each of us and sharing them with us. Our first lessons were on the culture of Costa Rica and statistical analysis. We already have an assignment to use what we learned to compare any two attributes of our choosing and determine if the null hypothesis is rejected or not. I look forward to our future journeys around Costa Rica! Pura vida!

Related articles:

STEM Diversity Programs Put Undergrads on Path for Research Success

Summer Research a Transformative Experience for Undergrads

The History of SDSU Research: 2000-Present