Undergraduate Research and Mentoring Opportunities During the Pandemic and Beyond

SCEC’s Internships provide meaningful research experiences and resources for undergraduate students to broaden participation, increase diversity, and promote the growth of a more capable STEM workforce. This is evidenced by the successful summer research internships Undergraduate Studies in Earthquake Information Technology (UseIT) and Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), which provide valuable research experiences to hundreds of students. Earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic posed many logistical and operational challenges for summer research programs’ PIs and Managers. As a result, hundreds of programs faced the decision to cancel their program because of travel, collaborative work, and other safety concerns. For SCEC, this meant canceling the in-person SURE and UseIT programs.

The gap in summer research opportunities was significant, primarily for students applying to graduate school and STEM jobs. The impacts of these missed opportunities ranged from the loss of income to the loss of research and technical training. Rising seniors were disproportionately impacted, as these students usually comprise the majority of summer program participants and they missed out on possibly the last opportunity to gain research experience before they transition to the next phase of their academic career. The loss of income tends to impact low-income students more as they depend on this income to help support their families while gaining experience (Sloan et al., 2020).

SCEC created the Supported Opportunities for Undergraduates and Researchers to Collaborate on Earthquake Science (SOURCES) Program to fill the research experience gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the SOURCES program was under development since 2019 to offer research experience opportunities during the academic year, the pandemic fast-tracked its launch and implementation in 2020. SOURCES offered a remotely-mentored research experience to college students nationwide, regardless of geographic location or availability of local researchers. SCEC SOURCES interns gained valuable research experience as well as career development, cohort building, science communication, and technical training. SOURCES provided research experiences for undergraduate students unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions and for students who otherwise may not be able to participate in onsite research due to other factors (obligations, disability, etc.). 

Image of M7.1 Ridgecrest fault Trace from Career Talk presentation
by Christine Goulet, with SOURCES interns watching via Zoom

The SOURCES program components expanded on SCEC’s successful in-person internships (UseIT and SURE). The research experience included: (1) Weekly (remote) meetings with SCEC mentor(s) to make progress on the intern research project, (2) webinars on professional development, (3) an opportunity to present their research at a (virtual) professional conference, (4) a visit to the mentor’s institution (when safe to do so), and (5) a stipend commensurate to typical in-person programs. This summer, SOURCES awarded 9 internships to a diverse group of undergraduate students from institutions across the nation including CSU Bakersfield, Appalachian State, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, CSU Dominguez Hills, University of Texas at El Paso, The University of Memphis, and Carnegie Mellon. All students presented their summer research at the SCEC2020 Annual Meeting and received valuable experience and positive feedback from professionals. For most students, this was their first time attending and presenting at a professional conference. Due to the success and positive student and mentor feedback, this program will continue during the academic year. 

"I think it’s really beneficial that creating a poster and presenting the research is part of the program- I had never written an abstract or created a poster before."
– SOURCES Intern

Through programs like SOURCES, SCEC exemplifies its values and commitment to providing mentored research training in support of more diverse STEM fields. Effective mentoring has the potential to contribute to science overall by improving the research experience for both mentors and mentees. Strong mentorship is linked to enhanced science identity, sense of belonging, and efficacy (Feldman et al., 2010). These are all critical traits for a researcher in training. Additionally, positive mentoring is linked to enhanced recruitment of underrepresented minorities (Hathaway et al., 2002; Nagda et al., 1998). Well-rounded summer research experiences can increase the likelihood that underrepresented minority students will pursue graduate school in STEM fields. This is important, given the concern about the non-diverse science pipeline in the U.S. and the continuing growth in the diversity of the college-age population (Pender et al., 2010).

Image from Career Talk presentation by Gareth Funning (UCR),
with SOURCES interns watching via Zoom

There is a clear need to continue research training and mentoring for our students or risk a permanent gap in the already non-diverse STEM fields. In addition to supporting our undergraduate students through our Internships Program, the ELCA Transitions Program focuses on supporting graduate students and Early Career Researchers by providing research travel awards, research stipends, and mentoring training. Opportunities for collaboration in ELCA mentoring initiatives include participating in Mentor/Mentee training, becoming a mentor in any of our programs, and helping to recruit mentors and mentees (students) from diverse backgrounds. SCEC members interested in collaborating in ELCA activities can reach out by emailing gnoriega@usc.edu



Hathaway SR, Nagda AB, Gregerman RS (2002). The relationship of undergraduate research participation to graduate and professional education pursuit: An empirical study. Journal of College Student Development, 43(5):614–631.

Mitchell D. Feldman, Patricia A. Arean, Sally J. Marshall, Mark Lovett & Patricia O'Sullivan (2010) Does mentoring matter: results from a survey of faculty mentees at a large health sciences university, Medical Education Online, 15:1, DOI: 10.3402/meo.v15i0.5063

Nagda, B.A., Gregerman, S.R., Jonides, J., von Hippel, W., & Lerner, J.S. (1998). Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Partnerships Affect Studen Retention. The Review of Higher Education 22(1), 55-72. doi:10.1353/rhe.1998.0016.

Pender, M., Marcotte, D. E., Sto Domingo, M. R., & Maton, K. I. (2010). The STEM Pipeline: The Role of Summer Research Experience in Minority Students' Ph.D. Aspirations. Education policy analysis archives, 18(30), 1–36.

Sloan, V., R. Haacker, R. Batchelor, and C. Garza (2020). How COVID-19 is affecting undergraduate research experiences, Eos, 101, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020EO145667. Published on 18 June 2020.


About the Author

Gabriela Noriega manages SCEC's Office of Experiential Learning and Career Advancement. In her role, Dr. Noriega aims to encourage and sustain careers in STEM by providing valuable educational experiences for students through participation in research and by providing early-career scientists of the SCEC community with resources and mentoring across key career transitions. She currently manages SCEC’s UseIT,  SURE, and SOURCES internships, and the Transitions Program. In addition, as the liaison to Earthquake Country Alliance Southern California, she supports the coordination of public-private partnerships that work together to improve earthquake preparedness, mitigation, and resilience.


Support for SCEC's Office of Experiential Learning and Career Advancement is provided by NSF Cooperative Agreement EAR-1600087 and USGS Cooperative Agreement G17AC00047, with additional support from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.


Reporters seeking interviews and other needs should email Mark Benthien and Jason Ballmann (SCEC's media contacts), and consult SCEC.org/media.

We study why and how earthquakes occur, evaluate their effects, 
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SCEC is headquartered at the University of Southern California with a 
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