CNEU Nanotechnology Summer School to aid students impacted by Hurricane Maria

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico in September 2017, it caused more than $94 billion in damages and thrust 3.4 million residents into a humanitarian crisis. It displaced thousands of families, knocked out power and communications systems across the island and brought about heavy, widespread flooding.

What the Category 4 storm didn’t wipe out, though, were the hopes of a group of students at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao (UPRH) of continuing their nanotechnology education, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant recently awarded to the Penn State Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (CNEU) to establish a Nanotechnology Summer School (NSS).

For more than a decade, UPRH has been working with CNEU, and since 2008, has been an active partner in the CNEU-hosted Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge (NACK) Network. Through collaboration with NACK, UPRH developed a nanotechnology program, incorporating courses from CNEU’s Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology Capstone Semester, and built a nanotechnology laboratory which included a 400-square-foot class 10,000 cleanroom.

However, due to the extreme damage caused to the UPRH campus by Hurricane Maria — estimated at $32 million — and specifically to the program’s classrooms, facilities and equipment, the nanotechnology program and its course offerings were in jeopardy of being suspended. Additionally, the students who could not afford to migrate to the U.S. mainland to take courses were at risk of not being able to complete their studies to earn their degrees.

“All of the University of Puerto Rico’s 11 campuses suffered infrastructure damage, but UPRH was hit the hardest,” said Osama Awadelkarim, CNEU director and professor of engineering science and mechanics. “Students were attending lectures in tents, many of the labs were not functional and internet access was very poor. Needless to say, it was a very serious situation and the nanotechnology program was severely impacted by the hurricane. But we believed we could help them through this difficult time.”

The $176,000 grant, administered through the NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, will allow CNEU to bring 14 students from UPRH’s department of physics and electronics to the Penn State University Park campus to attend the 12-week, six-course summer school, which will run from May 12 through Aug. 4. The funding will enable CNEU to cover the entire cost of travel, lodging, meals and tuition for all of the students.

Upon successful completion of the program, the students will return to UPRH and will be able to apply their credits earned to their respective degrees, including bachelor of science degrees in applied physics to electronics and associate degrees in electronics technology, or to a noncredit certificate.

“We are extremely grateful to the NSF for supporting this important initiative,” said Awadelkarim. “The incoming students are very enthusiastic about this opportunity, and we are excited to bring them to Penn State. Obviously, the objective of the NSS is to ensure these students continue their education without interruption and maintain continuity of UPRH’s nanotechnology program, but it is also about doing the right thing and helping people in a time of drastic need.”

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Last Updated May 03, 2018