Shelley Pressley (WSU Director of Undergraduate Research; third row, center) and the 2015 NARA SURE students.
Shelley Pressley (WSU Director of Undergraduate Research; third row, center) and the 2015 NARA SURE students.

This summer, 13 undergraduate students from across the U.S. invested their time to participate in the NARA Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) and assist NARA researchers in a wide array of studies.

NARA has sponsored undergraduate students through the WSU-SURE program since 2012. Each year, the pool of undergraduate applicants gets larger due to the program’s exposure at major conferences and on websites like the Pathways to Science. For the 2015 session, 93 applications were received. Approximately 20% of the applicants learned about the program from their academic advisor, 46% from searching the internet, and 22% from Pathways to Science website. Demographics of 2015 applicants were 49% women, 51% men; and 12% Hispanic, 2% Native American, 10% African American, 19% Asian/Pacific Islander/Filipino, 3% multicultural, and 45% Caucasian. Applications were received from 68 different schools.

From the 93 applicants, 13 were placed with NARA mentors at five locations: Washington State University (Pullman), Washington State University (Tri-Cities), The University of Idaho’s McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS), University of Washington, and Pennsylvania State University. The students, their undergraduate institution and a link to posters that describe their work are listed below.

Student Research Title Home Institution
Maika Bui Synthesis of Lignosulfonate Hydrogels cross-linked with PEGDGE University of Washington
Kyle Thompson Characterization and Modification of Asphalt With Epoxy Resins Synthesized From Pyrolysis Oil, a Derivative of Lignocellulosic Biomass San Jose State University
Bailey Tebou Air Quality Impact of the NARA Biorefinery North Carolina State Univ.
Shakema Haynes Activated Carbon by Chemical Activation of Lignin with Potassium Hydroxide Univ. of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
John Barth Comminution of Unmerchantable Forest Residuals to Determine Power and Energy Consumption as a Function of Moisture Content and Size Reduction Range Washington State University
Adriana Guzman Making The Chemistry of the NARA Project Visible Washington State University
Sarah Wilkins Biofuel Transportation and CO2 Emission Yale University
Emily Schwartz Forest Ecology and Biofuel Production Potential for Tribally-Managed Forests in the Northern Rockies University of Washington
Jennifer Murphy Educating Youth on Air Pollution Caused by Transportation University of Idaho
Mark Wohlpart Screening Value-Added Market Opportunities for Lignin Penn State
Oshauna Morgan Characterization of Biorefinery Lignins and Comparison or Reactivity for Value-added Chemical Production Johnson C. Smith Univ.
Kasey Markland Modifying Lignin and its Model Compounds to Enhance Oxidative Ring Cleavage to Dicarboxylic Acids Washington State Univ. – TC
Aleksandr Kirpach Preventing Nitrogen Depletion in Forests Undergoing Forest Residual Removal Tufts University

Workforce development

Providing research opportunities for undergraduate students can be an effective way to motivate students for further study. A 2003 survey of undergraduates who participated in summer research programs indicated that 91% reported that their research experience sustained or increased their interest in postgraduate education (Lopatto 2004). The research can also expand a student’s education and interests. Andrea Guzman, a biological science student who plans to enter the health care industry, developed lessons for high school students. Three other students also designed lesson plans under Karla Eitel’s mentoring at the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS) and helped transfer NARA’s science into K-12 classrooms.

Read more about Andrea’s experience here

The SURE program not only provides quality students to perform NARA research, but also exposes motivated STEM students to the challenges of supplying alternative biofuels into the marketplace. This exposure may create professionals who can provide solutions and will certainly increase the pool of citizens who understand alternative biofuel research and potential.

Applications for the NARA SURE 2016 program will be available in November 2016. For further information, view here.


Lopatto, David. (2004). Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE): First Findings. Cell Biol Educ., 3(4), 270-277.