By Elida Escarcega, Communications & Recruitment Specialist
Special from UTPB
Dr. Mohamed Zobaa, a UTPB Assistant Professor in the Department of Geosciences, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant for a summer research experience focused on the applications of science and technology in solving real energy and environmental problems. The $455,000 project will run for 3 years and offer students a unique opportunity to conduct rigorous research in the science and technology disciplines.
The sponsored program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any research areas funded by the National Science Foundation. The proposal for this project established an REU site at UTPB for students to participate in for the next three summers.
“The primary objective of this project is to provide minority and historically underrepresented student participants with an opportunity to conduct rigorous research in science and technology disciplines to solve problems related to energy and environment,” said Dr. Zobaa.
This project will focus on recruiting students mainly from local community colleges to spend ten weeks at UTPB working on their research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. Students will also have the opportunity to present their findings at regional, national, and international conferences in their field. With some of the rising problems that arise in the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin, students will be challenged to tackle some of these issues in their research and offer real-world solutions.
“Guiding my students from the darkness of not knowing about the subject to the light of knowledge is one of my favorite aspects about teaching. Nothing equals seeing that ‘ah ha’ moment, the moment of realization and inspiration in my students’ eyes,” added Dr. Zobaa.
Dr. Zobaa is a palynologist that has been working in academia for over 21 years, 7 of which have been with UTPB. He studies organic-walled microfossils to age-date sedimentary rock layers and reconstruct the past climatic and environmental history of our planet. Dr. Zobaa’s career takes him to places all over the world including the San Juan Basin in New Mexico, The Williston Basin in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yola Basin in Nigeria, and the Western Desert Petroleum Province in Egypt.
“I wish to recognize my partner in success and Co-PI Dr. Athenia Oldham for her valuable efforts during the preparation of this proposal,” added Dr. Zobaa. Dr. Oldham has been at UT Permian Basin since 2015 and is currently serving as chair of the biology department.
Over 20 years ago Dr. Oldham applied to the LSAMP program at UTPB and was able to accomplish many of the things this REU program promises. To her that experience was life changing and informed her decision to become a scientist and educator.
“Coursework in STEM disciplines are a challenge for many students due to the limited exposure and hands-on experience. Participating in undergraduate research provides the opportunity for both. Research also fosters critical and logical thinking while practicing under the supervision of an expert in the field,” said Dr. Oldham.
As for the success of this grant and project, Dr. Zobaa had many thanks to his colleagues at UT Permian Basin.
“Many thanks to the participating mentors Drs. Verma, Heo, Alzahabi, and Hembry for participating in quality research projects as well as their promptness in providing necessary documents when needed. Special thanks to Dr. Raj and his ORSP team for their encouragement and continuous support throughout the entire two-year-long process. I’m also in debt to Dr. Badgett and Dr. Rosenblatt for helping develop our students’ evaluation instruments and obtaining IRB approval,” said Dr. Zobaa.
Dr. Raj Dakshinamurthy, Interim Dean of College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Vice President for Research, said this is the first NSF REU grant UTPB received, which will provide a phenomenal hands-on-research experience for undergraduate students in intradisciplinary areas.
“We are thrilled for Dr. Zobaa and Dr. Oldham for receiving this significant and highly competitive grant from NSF. In the long term, these types of grants at UTPB help us to produce students with STEM background, a critical workforce for West Texas and beyond,” added Dr. Dakshinamurthy.