SOARS Program, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)
Program Design & Assessment
SOARS is an internship and mentoring program with a mission to increase the number of students from historically under-represented groups who enroll and succeed in graduate programs in the atmospheric and related sciences. The program is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and hosted at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.
Strengths of this program
SOARS combines multi-year summer research experiences with intensive mentoring and a supportive learning community to help undergraduate students gain research experience, complete college and make successful transitions into graduate school. The SOARS experience centers around a summer internship which includes an authentic research experience guided by scientific mentors, a weekly communication workshop, seminars about graduate school and career choices, and end-of-summer poster and oral presentations by the students.
A unique and important aspect of SOARS is its strong, formal mentoring structure. Mentors provide relevant resources, transfer necessary skills, advise about career options, introduce protégés professionally, assist in career placement, and provide inspiration and personal support. Each SOARS protégé is supported by up to five mentors: a research mentor to guide research practice; a writing mentor to improve scientific communication skills; a coach to help develop solutions to challenging situations; a peer mentor who has participated in the program in previous summers; and, if the project so requires, a computing mentor, who helps the protégé learn the computing skills necessary to complete their project.
Types of students servedUndergraduate students preparing to enter graduate school who want to pursue interests in atmospheric or related sciences.
The goals of this program are as follows:
Students participating in SOARS will acquire knowledge of:
- The research process: The SOARS experience centers around a summer internship which includes an authentic research experience guided by scientific mentors. The summer provides protégés with an increased ability to "think and work like a scientist," clarification or confirmation of career plans, and increased enthusiasm for learning and working as a researcher.
- Scientific communication: Protégés learn and strengthen written and oral communication skills for different audiences and purposes through a weekly communications workshop, doing oral and poster presentations, writing a scientific paper, doing media training and science outreach to K-12 groups.
- Research ethics: Protégés attend seminars on ethics in science, reviewing and discussing topics such as plagiarism, human subjects review, conflict of interests and author's rights.
- Leadership skills: SOARS seeks to foster the next generation of leaders in the atmospheric and related sciences by helping students develop investigative expertise complemented by leadership and communication skills. These skills include time management, having difficult conversations, setting expectations, working across differences, and managing group dynamics.
Students completing the SOARS program will have opportunities for:
- Professional development: Protégés apply skills and knowledge learned in class to authentic research guided by scientific and engineering mentors.
- Communication: Presenting at national conferences, writing scientific papers and exploring communication with the media about their work are part of the SOARS experience.
- Collaboration: As members of a research team, SOARS protégés learn about individual responsibility on a project and the value of team work. In addition, SOARS protégés and alumni form a learning community that serves as a source of comfort and information. This network supports protégés as they move into the larger national and international atmospheric science community.
The learning goals were informed by the following resources:
- BEST, 2004: A Bridge for All: Higher Education Design Principles to Broaden Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. San Diego, CA.
- BEST, 2004: The talent imperative: Diversifying America's science and engineering workforce. San Diego, CA.
- E Seymour, AB Hunter, H Thiry, G Melton, 2010: Undergraduate Research in the Sciences: Engaging Students in Real Science, Jossey-Bass.
- GEO REU PI Workshop, 2011: Developing an REU Community and Best Practices Through Networking (Final report as sent to NSF). San José, CA.
Learning outcomes are reviewed by the SOARS steering committee on a regular basis and modified if needed. Regular formal and informal feedback from alumni, mentors and current participants inform this process.
How program goals are assessed
Since its inauguration, the SOARS program has made a specific effort to evaluate its impact and success. SOARS uses a combination of tracking and evaluation tools, including continual updates of our database, comprehensive efforts to reach out to current and past participants twice each year, and reporting on progress in school, career path, and scientific contributions.
In addition, we have made use of external evaluations of the program. In 2005, the Ethnography & Evaluation Research group at the University of Colorado at Boulder completed a two-year, in-depth evaluation of the SOARS program. Evaluators interviewed every participant in the program, as well as every mentor and program staff.
A key value of the SOARS program is responsiveness to participant suggestions. While much feedback is given informally, through direct interaction with the program staff, there are two principal, formal means of feedback as well. At the end of the summer, a focus group style discussion is conducted with protégés and staff. Anonymous written surveys are also completed by both mentors and protégés. All of these modes of feedback, as well as additional, targeted conversations, have been used to guide appropriate changes to subsequent summer programs, with additional direction from the steering committee.
Design features that allow goals to be met
SOARS consists of a 10-week intensive research internship during the summer, with ongoing mentoring and conference support through the rest of the year. In most cases, protégés live together over the summer and interact through numerous formal and informal activities. This arrangement builds an extremely strong community who help each other to thrive and achieve long after their time in SOARS comes to an end. The formal mentoring structure also provides lasting support, with mentors continuing to advocate for their protégés as they move past graduate school and into the STEM community.
Every year up to 24 students participate in SOARS. Students can participate for up to four years in the program. Since its inception in 1996, 152 students have participated in SOARS.
Careers pursued by our alumni
The vast majority of SOARS participants go on to graduate school in STEM or related fields. Many of our alumni have entered the academic field as post docs, junior faculty, or as researchers at national research labs. Others are employed at federal intuitions such as FEMA, or the EPA. A few alumni serve as K-12 teachers or are employed in the private sector for consulting firms, the re-insurance industry or private weather companies.
Courses and Sequencing
Diagram of course sequencing and requirementsThe SOARS Program (Acrobat (PDF) 99kB Apr30 13)
Weekly scientific communications workshop
Graduate school seminar
Panel discussion of careers in atmospheric sciences
Participation in national scientific conferences
GRE preparatory course
Publishing your research
Intro level scientific writing for first year participants
Journal publication writing workshop for multi-year participants