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Davis-Bahcall Scholars tour modern world of advanced research

Davis-Bahcall Scholars tour modern world of advanced research

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LEAD | Each year, Sanford Underground Research Facility's Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program helps university freshmen and sophomores who are entering STEM fields develop an understanding of where their passions for science, technology, engineering and math could take them.

In 2020, the program was cancelled due to the pandemic, and participants from the 2020 cohort were invited to attend the 2021 program. Although the program was shortened from four to two weeks and included limited travel, students said the experience gave them insight into the real world of modern research.

“The Davis-Bahcall program introduces students to a variety of STEM disciplines and can be helpful to them in deciding on their major in college,” said program coordinator Brianna Mount, a research assistant professor of physics at Black Hills State University.

On their South Dakota circuit, the students toured the SURF in Lead; 3M in Aberdeen; Raven Industries in Sioux Falls; and physics, chemistry, engineering, geology and animal science research laboratories at Augustana University, BHSU, South Dakota Mines, South Dakota State University and University of South Dakota.

The group also talked virtually and in-person with scientists and engineers from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, IceCube Neutrino Observatory, as well as representatives from the LUX-ZEPLIN, CASPAR, NASA Astrobiology and SuperCDMS experiments.

“We saw such an intense variety of fields and subjects — from an astrobiology talk to an asphalt lab to a veterinarian facility — it was just fabulous,” said Aisulu Malik, who will be a freshman at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., this fall studying linguistics and possibly mechanical engineering.

“The program comes at a point in their education where they are choosing their future career path,” Mount said. “It’s a critical time because they get exposed to many different disciplines and learn early in their education what professionals do every day, whether in science, engineering or another STEM field.”

The program indeed came at a critical point for Phoebe Lefevre, who just completed her freshman year at Oregon State University studying physics.

“I've always been interested in — as I would describe it — a crippling amount of things. So, trying to decide what I want to study is particularly difficult,” Lefevre said.

When the program began this summer, she was at a crossroads, trying to determine what academic track she would pursue.

“I decided to just hold my breath and go to the program, which turned out to be perfectly positioned, right when I needed it,” Lefevre said. “It really gave me such a great insight into the scientific community and what the possibilities were after an undergraduate degree, which is so often shrouded in mystery for younger students. And I was very excited to continue studying physics.”

Eli Bohlander, who will be a freshman at Purdue University this fall studying aerospace and mechanical engineering, said he appreciated the opportunity for informal conversations with researchers and in-depth facility tours.

“Because we're such a small group, we could ask researchers questions about their experiences, how they got into their field of study, and what they like about it. That really made it a discussion where we learned more about the career path than you typically would in a classroom,” Bohlander said. “And it’s not every day you get to go underground and see world class experiments.”

The group chronicled their adventures on the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Facebook page, sharing photos of their stops at Wall Drug, the Badlands, Spearfish Canyon and the Fourth of July fireworks celebration in Lead.

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