Diving into SURF-IT Research

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Education professor and faculty mentor Mark Warschauer (center) gives the student researchers some tips for success.

Irvine, CA, June 26th, 2012 - - It’s the first full week of summer, and for the eighth consecutive year, a group of wide-eyed UC Irvine undergraduates is spending it – and nine more to follow – immersed in hands-on research inside an assortment of campus laboratories.
For many of the 11 students in this year’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Information Technology (SURF-IT) program, it’s their first lab experience. The program, co-sponsored by Calit2 and UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, gives them research experience under the guidance of faculty mentors and graduate students.

At an orientation meeting this week, program director Said Shokair and several of the mentors helped the young researchers understand what to expect and what will be expected of them. Good communication skills, a positive work ethic and cross-discipline cooperation are imperatives, they were told; so are safety, procedural integrity and the ability to overlook small frustrations.

“Our passion is working with you to make sure you’re launching yourselves into what you want to do in the future. Your job,” Shokair said, borrowing from the physics lexicon, “is to come up with the optimum angle to launch yourself.”

Student Paul Lowood (far right) introduces himself and his project.








The students, who introduced themselves and their research, were urged not to let results, or lack thereof, discourage them. “Focus on the process; enjoy the process,” Shokair said. “Sometimes your project doesn’t work out or the direction changes and that is normal. Focus on the experience.”

Collaboration among groups is also vital. “You’ll be amazed at how your project relates to other projects,” he added. “Don’t operate in a silo. Engage with as many people as you can.”

Faculty mentors and graduate students who attended the lunchtime orientation session added their thoughts. “UCI undergraduates are very lucky for all the research opportunities they have,” said Lisa Flanagan, assistant neurology professor. “It might be trite but it's true; the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. Ask a lot of questions and interact with others as much as possible.”

Student Rochelle Parker (standing) is excited about her project and the opportunity to learnfrom others in the program.

Engineering professor Martha Mecartney advised the students not to be afraid of seeking help. “If you have problems with your project, check with your graduate student or mentor,” she said. “Don’t hit your head against a brick wall for too long.”

In summary, Shokair said that attitude, values and work ethic are the keys to success in the SURF-IT program. “When you combine those, good things will happen,” he promised. “Have fun, work hard and be safe,” he concluded, and using his customary tag line, “Let’s hear a hoo-yah!”

This year’s students, mentors and projects include:

Nursing science student Melissa Mayr is working with informatics assistant professor Yunan Chen to design technologies for migraine management;

Electrical engineering major John Louie is designing information technologies to enhance stem cell analysis and isolation with neurologist Lisa Flanagan;

Tim Kang, a computer engineering student, is collaborating on software-defined radio networks with engineering professor Hamid Jafarkhani;

German studies student Paul Lowood teams with film and media studies professor Peter Krapp to survey the media history of simulations;

Calit2 director and engineering professor G.P. Li, along with CalPlug technical director Arthur Zhang, is guiding electrical engineering students Young Min Kim and Kelvin Liang as they study load signatures for home energy management;


Program director Shokair (left) and Calit2 division director Li share a light moment during the orientation session.

Mechanical and materials science engineering student Rochelle Parker is collaborating with Martha Mecartney to design oxygen sensors;

Katherine Lo, a math and computer science undergraduate, is working under the direction of informatics professor Bonnie Nardi to manipulate mechanical devices in video games in order to understand the computing experience;

ICS major Andrew Martin Del Campo, mentored by computer science professor Alex Nicolau, is working to classify performance versus power-consumption metrics for computing optimization;

Engineering professor David Reinkensmeyer is mentoring mechanical engineering student Gregory Zambrano in designing adaptive software for game-based hand rehabilitation; and

Kier Groulx, a computer science major and alumnus of last year’s SURF-IT program, is investigating the effectiveness of collaborative, cloud-based writing in K-12 schools with education professor Mark Warschauer.

The 10-week program concludes August 31 when the students present their final research findings.