Dean Wolf on International Summer Research Program

May 20, 2022

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As Global Engagement prepares to host a group of in-person interns in the International Summer Research Program (ISRP) at UC Santa Cruz, Dean of the Baskin School of Engineering Alexander Wolf provides Global Engagement (GE) with feedback from the summer 2021 pilot of the program which welcomed 19 international undergraduate students.

Global Engagement is very grateful for the support of Baskin Engineering in piloting the ISRP in summer 2021. Several departments (Computer Science and Engineering, Computational Media, and Electrical and Computer Engineering) participated, and plan to participate again in 2022.

What are your thoughts about Engineering departments participating in ISRP?

Alexander Wolf: We spoke with five of the faculty members who participated, and from those conversations, it seems clear that the inaugural year of the ISRP was very successful. 

Clearly, a program of this kind can very effectively raise the profile of the school internationally, particularly when it is offered in person. Related to that, of course, is the possibility of attracting great PhD applicants, whether they be the interns themselves or people in the interns’ personal networks. 

It is also evident from the faculty feedback that in most cases, the quality of the work performed by the interns was very high, and significant research advances were made and continue to be made. 

How might faculty benefit from participating in ISRP?

Alexander Wolf: One faculty member, who is working on a joint publication with his intern to be presented at IEEE Wireless Communications and Networking Conference, noted that an advantage of the program is that when the interns are good, they can be assigned a relatively undefined problem, with the decision as to whether to pursue that problem further made subsequently, based on the intern’s early progress and results. Another faculty member described being able to plug an intern from Colombia into a larger project with students in his lab – this was a group building a chat platform designed for industry professionals to mentor large groups of students. In the case of his other intern, he was able to advance a very new project involving applications of AI to economic modeling. The fact that the intern was working full time was a real advantage because the students in his lab have considerably less time to devote to the project. The work remains ongoing, in spite of the internship having ended. And a third faculty mentor, who was very impressed at the level of work produced by his two interns, is still working with them and they are preparing an abstract for an upcoming conference. 

In what ways do you see the ISRP supporting the mission of the Baskin School of Engineering, to engage in visionary research, and UCSC in general?

Alexander Wolf: Baskin Engineering was born in the age of the internet, and this gives the school a distinct advantage in terms of its ability to focus on emergent technologies. That said, the downside is that the school is very young – celebrating its 25th anniversary this coming fall, in fact. Similarly, UC Santa Cruz only recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, so we are still building our reputation and working to increase our visibility.  In order to recruit the best faculty and students to do the best possible work, we need to be a destination for the top talent, and through the ISRP, we can broaden our visibility internationally and expose summer cadres of interns to our vibrant and beautiful campus community.

What feedback have you received from faculty participating in the ISRP?

Alexander Wolf: One faculty member suggested that engineering interns also be recruited from mathematics, as well as engineering programs, and I think this would probably make sense for quite a few of our prospective faculty mentors. The only feedback that was at all negative concerned the challenges of working collaboratively across vastly different time zones. One pointed out that there may be challenges around housing and services in bringing interns to our Silicon Valley campus, so for faculty based there, it might make sense to continue running the program virtually. Incidentally, that faculty member experienced no significant difficulties with the time zone difference in working with her India-based intern, who remains an active participant in the lab’s Slack workplace. The faculty based on our residential campus generally felt that the program – while very successful – would be better in person. Finally, it was suggested that an incentive be offered to faculty and graduate student mentors in light of the fact that working with the interns did take away some of what he described as the “precious” time for research during the summer.