I volunteered to be a mentor for the SIAM CSE15 BE program several reasons! First of all, the mentoring program focuses on the vital challenge of improving diversity in STEM and CSE, and I wanted to support Sustainable Horizons Institute’s efforts in this direction. Second, undergraduate research is recognized as an important way to increase national competitiveness. Third, I wanted to learn about WeFold’s successes in introducing many students to computational biology.
It was encouraging and inspiring to see students’ enthusiasm for their work, and great to talk with my mentee about her path to pursue interdisciplinary education and research!
The experience had impacts in all of many way, by offering me new insights into the challenges faced by junior scientists interested in computational science and in interdisciplinary work. First, CSE15 gave me a new perspective on mentoring undergraduate CSE research. I have been advising several undergraduates since joining Northeastern’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering last fall, and it was great to see how Dr. Crivelli had structured the program to keep students engaged, and interacting with each other. Second, the experience highlighted a few ways in which we can improve interdisciplinary undergraduate education by being more flexible and responsive to students’ interests. For example, we can encourage students interested in double majoring (say, in math and biology) by increasing their access to advanced courses that integrate their disciplines. This is important both at undergraduate-only institutions and at universities with graduate programs. Another possibility might be to support more undergraduate research projects that can take the place of elective courses. Third, I was really struck by the obvious impact that the WeFold program had on participants’ interests and horizons. My immediate takeaway from watching the students’ talks at CSE was that similar programs should be started across the country, in all branches of STEM and CSE. I’d like to know how we as a community might support such an initiative.
I would absolutely volunteer again, and I’d recommend everyone do so if they have an opportunity! My mentee, and the other students who participated in the program, brought an infectious enthusiasm and curiosity to their work, and to possible career paths. Today’s undergraduates grew up with interdisciplinarity in a way that most of us did not, and their insights and questions reflect this comfort.