Undergraduate research takes EMS senior around the world

Steph Krane
April 08, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— From Taiwan to Texas and many places in between, Penn State senior Emily Loucks has spent her academic career traveling the globe and learning as much as she can. A geosciences major and a Schreyer Scholar, Loucks has dedicated her college experience to getting involved in research opportunities.

As a first-year student at Penn State, Loucks participated in the Women in Science and Engineering Research (WISER) program. The WISER program, funded by the NASA PA Space Grant Consortium, helps connect women in their first year of an undergraduate program at Penn State with research opportunities.

Loucks shared those experiences with first-year students as the keynote speaker at the 2019 WISER/MURE/FURP research symposium held in December 2019. The University-wide symposium showcases research conducted by women, minorities and first-year students in STEM fields.

Through the WISER program, Loucks studied the geochemistry of basalts, a kind of lava rock, in Saudi Arabia. Her work involved taking thin sections of basalt, cutting them with a rock saw and looking at the resulting thin sections under a microscope.

Loucks credits the WISER program with introducing her to the research process.

“If you’re doing a thesis you need to conduct research,” Loucks said. “The WISER program is a great way to get exposed to research early on,” she said.

The WISER program served as a springboard for Loucks. She ultimately decided to continue participating in research, a decision that would take her around the world.

Early in her college career, Loucks traveled to Taiwan to study geomorphology as part of a research project led by Roman DiBiase, assistant professor of geosciences. The trip was an experience that brought with it many firsts.

“It was my first time going overseas,” Loucks said. “I’d never been in an airplane before. It was also my first time using data.”

Taiwan was the first of many trips Loucks would take. Her next journey was to the Guadalupe mountains in Texas to study rock properties. Loucks credits the Schreyer Honors College with helping make that trip possible.

“I submitted a proposal for a Schreyer Research Grant and that’s how I was able to go,” Loucks said. “In some cases, if you have an idea for a cool project and look for the money, you can find it.”

Loucks spent six weeks during the summer after her junior year at Geosciences Field Camp, an experience that took her and other geosciences students to geologically diverse places in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho to gain hands-on experience solving geologic problems.

“It’s a really cool experience — kind of like a rite of passage for geosciences majors,” Loucks said. “We were all over the place out there and we got to see a lot of really sweet things you can’t see in Pennsylvania.”

With four years of education and many research experiences under her belt, Loucks is excited for a future where she will continue to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way.

“I’d really like to work for the government in a position where I can use my skills, especially if it deals with natural hazards, like helping with debris flonasws, landslides or flooding,” Loucks said.

Although she’s now looking to her future, Loucks still remembers the impact the WISER program had on her as a first-year student.

Allison Beese, assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, organized the WISER/MURE/FURP research symposium as a way to expand on research opportunities for undergraduate students.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2020