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Loui helps lead ITI summer internship program


Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS

Michael C Loui
Michael C Loui
The Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois is offering its Undergraduate Research Internship again this summer, but with the support of a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  

ITI began its internship program in 2007 and continued it in 2008. For 10 weeks during the summer, approximately 20 undergraduate students from around the world are paired with Illinois faculty members to participate in research projects.

Last August, ECE Professor Michael C Loui and ITI’s Assistant Director for Social Trust Initiatives Masooda Bashir submitted a proposal to NSF to fund the program and create a Research Experiences for Undergraduates site at ITI. The proposed site would be similar to the current program with students working with faculty members. With funding from NSF, students would also participate in activities such as weekly discussions to enhance the research experience and attract more undergraduates to graduate study.  

Despite strong reviews from NSF, the program was initially denied funding in January. However, in the beginning of June--after the program had already begun--NSF allocated funds from the stimulus package to ITI. The $357,000 award will support the 11 domestic students.

Since the NSF funding came literally at the last minute, some of the planned enhancements will be incorporated in over the course of the upcoming years.

There were some enhancements implemented this summer. Students attend technical discussions with professors and ethics discussions weekly.  “We all know we’re supposed to be good people, but--for example--students often don’t recognize when a conflict of interest exists,” said Loui, a University Distinguished Teacher-Scholar and the principal investigator of the proposal. “Very few students have previously taken a course on professional ethics.”

Michael Loui
Michael Loui
Topics include ethical issues in research, standards in peer review of proposals and submitted manuscripts, ethical issues in mentoring relationships, intellectual property, and cultural differences.

“Those are the things you don’t really learn on typical school days,” said ECE senior Jane Tu, a participant in this year’s summer program. “These are real-life issues that you really have to deal with when you become a researcher.”

Different viewpoints surface when groups of domestic and international students discuss these issues.  

“It’s really useful to get international students’ perspectives on these issues because they come in with different cultures, backgrounds, and expectations,” Loui said. “It enriches the discussion.”

But the largest component to this summer’s program is, of course, research.

Tu had not been able to fit undergraduate research into her schoolyear schedule, packed as it was with a heavy course load and numerous activities. With encouragement from her roommate, who participated last summer, Tu applied and was accepted into the program.

“What this program offers is to do research during the summer when you can be fully committed to one thing,” Tu said. “You can get a lot more accomplished and don’t have to worry about anything else.”

Narendra Ahuja
Narendra Ahuja
Tu is paired with ECE Professor Narendra Ahuja and is assisting a graduate student in performing a 3-D mapping of the interior and exterior of the Beckman Institute. Working in the lab has shown Tu that she doesn’t have to be limited in the fields she can become involved in with an ECE degree.

“It wasn’t what I originally wanted to focus on,” Tu said. “But it introduced me to a different field that I now think is very interesting.”

A goal of the program is to encourage students to go to graduate school. Tu has been able to ask the graduate students in her lab for advice. She also now considers taking more classes related to this field in her senior year.

“Anyone who comes to this school, I would definitely tell them to take this chance,” Tu said. “I find it very rewarding.”