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Summer program reaches young researchers

Celina Dozier, a chemical engineering major from Florida A&M University, has always known she wanted to come to MIT. This summer, thanks to the MIT Summer Research Program, she put her plan into action.

"There are so many resources here at MIT that we do not have at my university," said Dozier, who is spending her summer working on a research project in chemical engineering with Professor Paula Hammond and graduate student Marianne Terrot.

Dozier is at MIT along with 57 other university students from around the world as part of the annual MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). The 2006 program started June 12 and runs through Aug. 13. MSRP interns work for two months with MIT faculty mentors on research projects in their respective fields.

Started in 1986, MSRP was part of an institutional effort to address the small numbers of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and Puerto Ricans in engineering and science in the United States. In the past 20 years, 450 interns have gone through the program.

Over the years the program has grown and expanded. Now it is open to students with a broad array of backgrounds. In the past two years, MSRP has also doubled its enrollment with close to 60 interns participating in both 2005 and 2006.

Student interns receive a monthly stipend, round-trip travel, on-campus housing (in Burton-Conner) and have access to an array of courses and seminars that help them prepare for graduate school.

"We are looking for students who could apply to MIT, come here and be successful. We are looking for people who, if given the chance, will excel," said Christopher Jones, assistant dean for graduate students, who runs MSRP. Many of the MSRP interns will eventually apply to MIT. Last year, 80 percent of the summer class applied to MIT for graduate school.

This year roughly 200 students applied to participate in the Summer Research Program, Jones said. "The students are carefully selected and all very enthusiastic," said Thomas Green, outreach coordinator for the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL).

CSAIL is of particular interest for many of the interns, Jones said. This year 10 interns are working in CSAIL.

The nine-week program is full of speakers, seminars, presentations, research and work on final papers and presentations. "We are here for the work," said Portia Taylor, a student from Grambling State University in Grambling, La. "It's MIT and with that name emits lots of hard work."

Still, students do find the time to socialize, said Alia Carter, an MIT senior who is working as a program assistant this summer. Her job is to help organize activities and be there to help the interns if they struggle.

"It has been great to work with peers," Carter said. "They will be great contacts since we are all going through similar experiences."

This year, the program also included a full day of volunteer work. The interns chose from six local charity organizations, including the Pine Street Inn and the Women's Lunch Place.

"We feel that the community is doing so much for them, they have a responsibility to give back," Jones said. MSRP's main focus is on the "triad of research, academics and community," he said.

For Dozier, the program has reaffirmed her commitment to academics. "I have wanted to teach since I was 12," said Dozier, who plans to get her Ph.D. and become a professor. "This has been such a great experience for me."

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