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Daphne LaDue Receives NSF Grant to Continue REU Program

Daphne LaDue Receives NSF Grant to Continue REU Program

LaDue portrait

Daphne LaDue, a senior research scientist with the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma, has received her fifth National Science Foundation grant to continue the Real-World Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences program. This is the seventh NSF grant for CAPS.

In 2016, LaDue was awarded a five-year, $889,591 NSF grant to fund REU. LaDue and Alexandra Marmo, a research associate at CAPS, are co-principal investigators of the new NSF grant of an intended award amount of $1,156,062 and extends funding of the program through February 2026. This new award reflects a step up for this over 23-year-old program, increasing the number of participants by 140% since 2015 and adding several new initiatives.

"When you look at where the participants have gone and what they do now, the REU program that Dr. LaDue has led for the past two decades has been one of the most remarkable success stories in influencing the path that research in meteorology and its relationship with social science in the United States,” said Harold Brooks, senior research scientist, Forecast Research and Development Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association/National Severe Storms Laboratory.

LaDue posed with class in large group shot on steps

Formal group picture of the 2018 group and their mentors at the National Weather Center.

Three new efforts in this grant that evolve the site in exciting new ways, LaDue said:

  • Participants will be exposed to the notion of convergent research while also learning Python (an interpreted, high-level and general-purpose programming language) through a new effort being led by David Bodine, research scientist with OU’s Advanced Radar Research Center; Elizabeth Pillar-Little, assistant director and research scientist with OU’s Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling; Jeff Basara, associate professor, School of Meteorology; Mark Laufersweiler, OU Libraries and Amanda Schilling, OU Libraries.  
  • Answering NSF’s call for individual REU programs to build and share resources with other REU programs, Amanda Kis, a lecturer in the School of Meteorology, will lead a new Scientific Writing curriculum development component that will be piloted, improved and shared widely by the end of the grant.
  • Finally, the group will leverage its experiences running the 2020 program virtually to continue to offer remote participation as an option for place-based students. These might be students with certain disabilities for whom relocation to Norman for 10 weeks is not feasible or  returning adult students with children or other family responsibilities.

At its core, the Real-World Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences will bring 70 undergraduate students over five years, from all U.S. states and territories, to Norman to conduct scientific research and learn about the wide range of career opportunities available to them. At the heart of the program is an authentic research experience that introduces participants to scientific research under the guidance of one or more scientists in the weather, climate and radar organizations. These organizations span across federal, state, university and private-sector groups that work collaboratively to improve our understanding of weather and climate. 

Additional activities in the REU program are designed to provide a well-rounded experience that help participants determine their next steps in regard to advancing education and careers. Participants attend seminars and workshops to learn about cutting-edge science and to build their research skills. They tour weather, climate and radar-related facilities and are able to learn about a day in the life of a research scientist. At the end of the program, participants share their research projects with each other, the local scientific community and the larger scientific community at a professional conference.

LaDue posed with class at 'Continental Divide' site

In the 2011-2015 grant I had funds to take our group to Boulder, Colorado, each year to meet up with a similar summer internship program called SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science) and explore additional career opportunities in atmospheric sciences in Boulder, Colorado.

“OU’s extensive partnerships with NOAA allow us to show our participants the ‘last mile” of research’ as it is applied to the practice of meteorology,” LaDue said. “NOAA’s federal and OU affiliated scientists are a backbone of the program, mentoring several — and sometimes a majority — of projects.”

The new proposal, LaDue says, will help evolve the program in exciting new ways. It will help to advance the field by developing a Scientific Writing Workshop curriculum that is piloted, refined and shared widely with other REU programs, and it will connect and expose participants to the idea of convergent research through a new, hands-on activity with a wide array of instrumentation, ranging from experimental radars to drones and weather stations. 

“[Co-PI] Marmo’s experience in OU’s new Masters of Hydrology and Water Security is a clear asset here, as are her experiences conducting research during her undergraduate days at Purdue and her experience teaching middle school students,” LaDue said. “She takes time to build relationships with each student and has a passion for removing inequities and learning challenges that might hold them back.”

Over the past 20 years, this program has brought in more than 270 U.S. undergraduate students, introducing them to research while teaching them valuable skills for graduate school and future careers, LaDue said. The scientific workforce is becoming more equitable because of this program, with half of the participants being female and a quarter being racial and ethnic minorities, veterans of the U.S. armed forces, non-traditional students, or students with a physical disability, all of whom are underrepresented in atmospheric sciences. The majority of this program’s alumni have pursued a graduate degree and now work in meteorology or a related field.

Aisha Owusu, assistant dean of student services in OU’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, was a mentee of LaDue’s and an alumna of the program.

“Daphne has a knack for ‘meeting students where they are at’ and co-producing the research experience with them,” Owusu said. "My 2005 NWC REU changed my life and the way I interpreted the world of atmospheric research. I had never realized how interdisciplinary research could be. Daphne’s encouragement and the REU helped me to pursue a multifaceted and non-linear career within meteorology, climate services, career development, public relations and academia without any reservation.”

The REU has, and will continue to have, broader impacts at the individual, local, university, state, national and international level through publications each year while also producing or improving databases and tools useful beyond their own research projects. The program also helps build a diverse community of scientists with a deep appreciation for quality research and increases collaborative and convergent research between the academic, public and private sectors, LaDue said, noting that these efforts assist in the growth of the next generation of inclusive scientists to maintain U.S. global leadership in weather and climate research.

LaDue posed with class in large group shot indoors

2019 REU participants at the end of the summer at a final get-together and to watch tornado videos

LaDue also recently received notice that she had received an award from the American Meteorological Society related to the series of Real-World Research Experiences for Undergraduates grants.

The Council of the American Meteorological Society voted to award LaDue its Robert H. and Joanne Simpson Mentorship Award for “generous, thoughtful and caring mentorships to students and their supervisors during more than 20 years of directing the Oklahoma Research Experience for Undergraduates program.” The award was presented in conjunction with the 101st AMS annual meeting in January in New Orleans.

“I am excited about the sustained commitment and enthusiasm of scientists throughout the Norman weather and climate community that have enthusiastically supported this program,” LaDue said. “It’s exciting to see all the new ideas brought to the table for this grant. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone to make our highly regarded program even better.”


This article was originally published by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships.

Article Published:  Wednesday, June 2, 2021