2022 SURF fellows Samuel Bernsen ’24 and Daniel Dinh ’24 spent their summer diving deeper into their research project and working to perfect a technique to measure student attentiveness in the classroom using radar technology. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) is an eight-week paid program facilitated by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence (CUE), which allows student researchers to be immersed in their research projects or creative activities with their faculty mentors.
Bernsen and Dinh, who are pursuing Computer Engineering and Software Engineering, respectively, began their research journeys with the support of faculty mentor Dr. Maryam Etezadbrojerdi. Coming up with a research topic encouraged them to think beyond the scope of engineering. While deciding which topic to research, Dinh explains that the team “found an article that discussed using a single radar installed in a car to track if the driver is paying attention. Afterward, we sat down and discussed how we could apply this to our interests. Because we were all students, we asked ourselves, ‘why don’t we use this in a classroom to help teachers and students?'” Although using cameras to monitor attentiveness in classrooms has always raised ethical concerns, Bernsen explains that using radar technology in place of cameras ensures privacy through anonymity. Thus, the idea of using anonymous radar technology to measure student attentiveness was born, and SURF would contribute to turning this idea into a reality.
SURF was a unique experience for these researchers. Bernsen explains, “SURF gave us an opportunity to dive deeper into research, and because we were spending so much time in the summer focused on only our project, we saw faster results.” In addition to advancements in their research project, the social events hosted by the CUE during SURF allowed them to connect with other researchers. To Bernsen, “it was nice to meet researchers in different disciplines, especially since I’m usually in my own engineering bubble at school.” Observing other researchers’ discoveries and passions inspired Bernsen. “The other SURF fellows definitely motivated me to work harder to get my own results.” At the end of the memorable eight-week fellowship, SURF fellows presented their findings to faculty, parents, and staff at the annual SURF showcase. This lively event was a perfect end to an unforgettable summer filled with discovery, knowledge, and excellence. According to Bernsen, “it was really nice to summarize everything at the showcase and realize that we did a lot within eight weeks.” Dinh and Bernsen are excited to show the rest of their research team the progress that they achieved during the summer and will continue advancing their project this upcoming semester.
As future engineers, Bernsen and Dinh gained many memorable experiences and skills from conducting undergraduate research. According to Dinh, the skills learned from conducting research will benefit him in the future. “Research and understanding what others have done and pushing the boundaries happens a lot in the engineering field, so even if I’m not doing research per se, I am still using key aspects and techniques from research in the future.” Similarly, Bernsen thoroughly enjoyed his experience as a SURF fellow. Although he may not pursue a research career, he believes that SURF was integral in allowing him to explore the possibility. “I’ve enjoyed research a lot, but I don’t think I’d want to do research in the long term. It’s great to dive deep into one topic, and SURF did give me the opportunity to fully explore what research would look like as a career, but it also helped ensure my passion for engineering.”
Bernsen says to students interested in research, “apply for SURF! Get in contact with faculty members who you would like to spend more time with, and remember that they are more than willing to help with your career goals and ignite your interests.” Dinh’s inspirational advice for students is that “life is only so long, so just keep pushing your boundaries and keep improving yourself.”
Feel inspired to apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship? Applications for the summer of 2022 will be opening soon! The deadline to submit will be in February. More info can be found on our CUE website regarding eligibility and deadlines.
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