Undergraduate researchers find their mark at ECSU

Kesha Williams
June 15, 2010


The task of finding an item not marked by landmarks is no easy assignment. Students attending Undergraduate Research Experience in Ocean, Marine and Polar Science (URE OMPS) now realize that task can be completed with ease when you have the right device handy.

Sixteen students attended the Undergraduate Research Experience in Ocean, Marine and Polar Science at Elizabeth City State University under the direction of Dr. Linda Hayden, a professor in the ECSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.  The objective of the eight-week session is to promote the professional development of minority students. The program funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation assigns students to research teams who work closely with faculty to research, write and present on a given topic.  One of its seminars, "Introduction to Global Positioning System (GPS)," involved college students from Norfolk State University, Saint Augustine's College, Mississippi Valley State University, Florida State University, Winston-Salem State University, ECSU and four students from the University of Ghana.

Mr. Je'aime Powell, staff in Information Technology Client Services at ECSU, taught the students how to utilize Garmin branded GPS units to mark positions and track routes. With basic functions covered, a test of the students' knowledge was conducted using Geocaching.  Geocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a GPS receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers called "geocaches" or "caches."  About four years ago, a National Cache location was established with the permission of university administrators. As a part of the seminar, maintenance was completed on the geocache location and an important container was replaced.  This summer, other caches with logbooks were hidden and marked around the campus. The GPS latitude and longitude coordinates were marked and then distributed for the students to find.

Amadi Sefah-Twerefour, a senior majoring in Oceanography and Fisheries at the University of Ghana, Legon, enjoyed the seminar. She plans to pursue a master's degree in oceanography, followed by a doctorate degree in Physical Oceanography. Her research interests are remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS) and coastal processes, so the seminar was a rewarding experience for her.

"Last semester, in my junior year, we took a field course in which we sampled onshore as well as offshore areas. We had to use Global Positioning System (GPS) units to mark out stations to make future location of these exact spots easy," Sefah-Twerefour said.

"The difference between that exercise and this one is that, the GPS units used in this recent exercise were more upgraded. We were also given the coordinates of several points in terms of latitudes and longitudes and our task was to locate all those points, which we did not do in school during that field course."

"After participating in all activities scheduled [here] for us, I realize that there are so many skills I need to acquire to make my future research work very efficient. I came to gain more skills as well as knowledge needed in remote sensing and research in general," Sefah-Twerefour said. "This would help me to carry out my research work properly in the process of executing my project work, required in the second semester of my senior year. The experience gained would certainly mold me and make me a better candidate for my master's and doctoral programs."

She also credits the summer program with increasing her knowledge of two computer operating systems, Linux/Ubuntu and Macintosh OS X. The students were encouraged to create their own websites, to document their research projects.

"Creation of my own website, employing the use of programs such as Adobe DreamWeaver CS3 and PhotoShop, is another beneficial skill I have acquired. My picture-taking-skills have improved since the lab session we had [here] on digital cameras. I can now take photographs that give a good illustration of my research work," Sefah-Twerefour said. "Team work is an important thing I have learned which will help me work with other researchers."

Linda Kpormone Buame, a fourth year student at the University of Ghana, Legon is pursuing a bachelor 's degree in Oceanography and Fisheries and is a participant in URE OMPS 2010. After sessions here, many of them will move on to one of ECSU's partner universities, University of Kansas, for additional training. She too plans to pursue an advanced degree. Her research interests include restoration of riparian wetlands, biodiversity and conservation as well as remote sensing application to oceanography.

"The Undergraduate Research Experience in Ocean, Marine and Polar Science is important because it enabled me acquire the knowledge and necessary skills for research. It gave me the exposure I need to meet researchers in their field of study and meet colleagues who also have the goal of doing research, "Buame said.

"This, undergraduate research program has given me more confidence to enter graduate school, since I can rely on my experience during this program to achieve even more."

Powell said the seminar was a success in that the students learned GPS in a way that will be helpful in their environmental studies. Often as scientists, readings must be taken from the same position in which no other land based or sea based markers are available. The use of the GPS devices allows consistent readings to be taken and tested.