Sac State Torchlight

Summer science program helps students pursue research

The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience gives students like Sylvanna Krawczyk and faculty members like Chemistry Professor Benjamin Gherman the opportunity to work side-by-side on research projects.

This year, the Smithsons extended their support to provide a stipend for faculty mentors. In previous years, faculty members volunteered their time, and sometimes personal resources, to support the program.“I’ve always found it rewarding to work with students on projects,” says Gherman. “It’s a great opportunity for the students and me to expand our minds and work on new problems.”  
Summer is a time of leisure for many, but some Sacramento State students spend that time hard at work conducting scientific research.
Undergraduate students enrolled in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) work 40 hours a week for four to 10 weeks during the summer on experiments or observational studies collecting data to answer a predefined question, says Jill Trainer, dean of the College.
“The SURE program gives students the opportunity to experience the thrill of discovery,” Trainer says. “These projects are original research where the answer is unknown, which means they have the potential to result in new discoveries that can be published or presented at a scientific meeting.”
It’s an educational opportunity students wouldn’t find at a large research university, Trainer says, working side-by-side with a faculty mentor and applying classroom knowledge to solving real problems.
In the process, they develop a greater understanding of what it is like to work in a research lab, says chemistry Professor Benjamin Gherman, a SURE mentor. “That is crucial for students as they prepare for post-graduation whether that be a job in industry, professional school or graduate school.”
The SURE program, now in its fourth year, receives support from Sacramento State alumni Thomas (’65, Biological Sciences) and Hedda (’65, Biological Science) Smithson. Their SURE Award provides grants of up to $500 for supplies, equipment, services and travel related to the students’ projects and stipends of $500 per week for up to four weeks.
“My wife and I are very firm believers that students need all the experience they can get in a research environment,” says Thomas Smithson. “This is a chance for them to gain that experience at a time in their lives when there is not as much pressure as there may be later on.”
The Smithsons developed an affinity for science, Sacramento State and each other as Sac State students in the mid-60s. They were married in 1964, and had long careers teaching science before retiring in 2000.
“To be a competing influence in the world, we have to step up our game in terms of technology and research, and it is comforting to know someone is aware of that and supports that goal,” says Sylvanna Krawczyk, a senior chemistry and mathematics major and a SURE participant.