The National Science Foundation recently awarded a grant of $3.3 million to UCSB and University of Texas at El Paso to establish a long-lasting partnership in materials research and engineering and increase opportunities for global summer internships.

The proposed partnership promotes advanced degrees for underrepresented minority groups at both campuses, hoping to alleviate the scholastic struggles of those who identify as low-income, first-generation students. The NSF contribution is part of the national Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials grant program, which aims to facilitate advancements in the fields of materials science and photovoltaic research.

UCSB Materials Research Laboratory Education Director Dorothy Pak said the scholarship aims to emphasize the partnership between the two campuses to promote diversity in the fields of engineering and chemistry.

“It is a partnership for research and education materials, a partnership between a minority-serving institution like UT El Paso and a materials research science and engineering center which is what the MRL is at UCSB,” Pak said. “Our goal is to create a partnership and strengthen the relationship between the two universities [and] to increase the diversity of students who go on to science and engineering and materials in particular.”

Pak said she hopes the new collaboration will allow researchers to exchange ideas freely.

“There are some relationships between what we do here in materials and what they do there in materials, so we are hoping to have some interchange — not only between faculty, but also between students that go back and forth [between] the two universities,” Pak said.

According to Pak, the program encourages students from both UTEP and UCSB to participate in internships at partner campuses throughout the summer.

“Part of the proposal is education and my role is to run those programs for the undergraduates in the exchange at UCSB,” Pak said. “Once the students come here they will be incorporated into the programs that my colleagues and I run.”

Pak said she hopes students will consider attending graduate school at either UTEP or UCSB after completing their summer internships.

“It offers great opportunities to see research in materials and chemistry in another university. I think at UT El Paso there is a lot for them to do and a potential place for graduate schools, [in addition to] bringing those folks here,” Pak said.

The PREM program will offer students hands-on experience with some of the latest scientific technology, according to Assistant Director of the Materials Research Lab Maureen Evans. Evans said the NSF contribution covers essential laboratory equipment fees in all interdisciplinary fields.

“The funding we get from the National Science Foundation helps support some very specialized and cutting-edge instrumentation used for analysis and characterization for new material,” Evans said.

According to Evans, the program incorporates research from a wide range of disciplines.

“We are basically an interdisciplinary materials research, science and engineering research center that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation to do research in the materials area because it is such an interdisciplinary field,” Evans said.

Evans said UCSB takes part in a similar partnership with Jackson State University, where students are assigned mentors to assist in their experiments — an opportunity that may not be available on their own campuses.

“Partnership creates a pathway for some underrepresented groups to get access to our facilities and our research communities with the hopes of mentoring the next generation of science and engineers,” Evans said.