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Thailand Gives a Taste of International Research

Students Conduct Research, Explore Culture, Experience Scholarly Collaboration

Feb. 4, 2013

College student crouched beside a little girl in traditional Thai garb.

When not in the lab, Emily Ramos enjoyed Thailand’s culture and people, including meeting this Thai girl.

Over winter break, six science and math students conducted research in northern Thailand during the day, and at night, explored the sights and culture of the Southeast Asian country.

For the undergraduates, it was a first-time opportunity to not only study abroad but also to work side-by-side with faculty and students at Chiang Mai University.

Their research experience was made possible through the University's Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the Environmental Science Research in Thailand programs. One student learned about mathematical models that can be used to better understand the dynamics of HIV infection, another focused on research targeting HIV pathogenesis, and geology and earth science students mapped the geologic history of the Chiang Mai region.

"This experience has enriched my life and my education in ways I could never fully express," said geology major and Brea resident Kelly Shaw, who lauded the scholar programs.

"Not only did I get to learn and grow educationally and culturally, the interpersonal relationships with my fellow students grew exponentially. I made friendships that will last for years to come," she explained. "I am so thankful that I was given this amazing opportunity."

"It was exciting to me to be working in a different environment than usual," said Karen Balcázar of Placentia, a junior biochemistry major who plans to pursue a career in pharmacology research. "I enjoyed working on research that is completely new to me, allowing me to learn new techniques in research. Exploring Thailand and participating in all of their attractions was a lot of fun. I liked being on my own, away from home, while continuing to expand my research knowledge."

"My research experience day-to-day was incredibly rewarding," said earth science major Priyankaa Cid of Orange, a junior who plans on furthering her studies in environmental sciences after graduation. She worked on analyzing and comparing the chemical composition of hot springs in northwestern Thailand to determine the potential for a small geothermal energy power plant.

Fellow earth science major Joseph Hawkins of Bellflower led a project that explored Thailand's geologic history. Working on research in Thailand, he said, "has been a truly life-altering event. . . this whole experience has rejuvenated my drive and desire to learn and continue on my academic journey" toward a doctorate, explained the scholar who plans to graduate in May.

Christina A. Goode, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of LSAMP, and Brady P. Rhodes, professor of geological sciences who directs the Environmental Science Research in Thailand Program, mentored the students during the monthlong endeavor.

This year was the first time that the two separate programs collaborated to give students the chance to study in Thailand. LSAMP, supported by a National Science Foundation grant and the California State University Chancellor's Office, and the Environmental Science Research in Thailand Program, co-sponsored the trip. This year, the Thailand program expanded to include students majoring in math and chemistry.

"This experience opened my eyes to the many ways I can contribute to humanity through biostatistics," said Emily Ramos of Fullerton, a math major who worked on mathematical models that help her link her discipline to health care issues. She worked with a Thai research partner, Somsak, who would bring her Thai snacks daily.

"I saw that mathematics truly is a universal language. Sometimes Somsak and I didn't understand one another, but we always communicated through math."

The Environmental Science Research in Thailand Program, underwritten in part by Associated Students Inc., has operated for more than 10 years and provides undergraduate and graduate students in geology and environmental science with an international research experience in Thailand's tropical ecosystem, Rhodes said. Students not only collaborate with Thai faculty and students at Chiang Mai University but also work in the laboratory and in field-based studies appropriate to a particular research project.

"I found the research to be exhilarating," said geology major Dylan Garcia of Rancho Cucamonga, who hopes to finish his undergraduate studies in 2014 and pursue a doctorate in geological sciences. "The cultural experience I was so lucky to be involved in was quite possibly the highlight of my college career as an undergraduate and I hope others will pursue similar endeavors."

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research