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Posted 6/19/2013

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Still bleary eyed from their 1 a.m. arrival at Vicksburg, Miss., students from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez were seated at 8.a.m. and ready to begin their summer adventure with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss, Champaign, Ill.; Hanover, N.H.; and Alexandria, Va.

The young collegians started their 10-week program with a welcome, orientation and meeting their mentors, much like it did for the nine students who arrived in 1991 for the first ERDC-UPRM student exchange program.

The 36 students, located at six ERDC laboratories, will work with a mentor on a specific research project.  Dr. David Pittman, director, Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory and ERDC lead for the UPRM partnership, explained the students would be working with more than 20 repeat mentors. Some were graduates of UPRM as well as the summer intern program. “The role of your mentor is to help you be a success,” Pittman said.

The GSL director informed the students that they would be treated as co-workers and not students. He listed the benefits for the students, “challenging research, professional development, and social activities.” In return, the interns will present a briefing on their research at the end of their summer experience.

All this work will pay off for the students this summer as they earn college credit for their summer internship.

It will not be all work and no play for the students. Several social events are planned for the summer. UPRM alumni organized a Meet and Greet Brown Bag Lunch and plan to do more throughout the summer. Members of the recently formed Vicksburg Chapter of the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers are planning a picnic for the students. Students also plan to attend the Blacks in Government Meet and Greet event where they can meet ERDC leadership.

Evelyn Villanueva, a UPRM graduate, is described as the mother of the group. She will also be coordinating group social activities for the students and remembers what it is like to be away from home and family in a land with different customs and language. “The social events are an important part of the summer program. We let the students experience work life, but it is equally important to let them learn about the local area and to interact with alumni or travel to nearby cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta or Dallas,” she said.

This is sure to be a busy summer, filled with research experience, new friends and memories for the students.