Materials science and engineering professor Jacob Jones has worked to bring international research experiences to NC State students based on his own transformative experience as a postdoc working at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia.
“When I finished my Ph.D. at Purdue I was 26 years old, and I realized I had lived my entire life in Indiana. I wanted to get out and experience the world,” said Jones.
“When the offer letter came in [for a postdoc] from UNSW, I sold all of my belongings, packed my things into two suitcases, and moved to Australia. I really enjoyed it, not just from the research perspective, but from the cultural perspective. When I left that postdoctoral experience, I wanted to provide that experience to other students, and the IRES program was a mechanism for me to do that.”
The International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program, administered by the National Science Foundation, seeks to provide high-quality international research experiences to undergraduate and graduate U.S. science and engineering students.
Jones leads an IRES program with students from NC State and Penn State focused on the theme of Materials for Energy Storage and Transduction. Cohorts of five to seven students each year travel to UNSW for an immersive 10-week research experience working with an Australian scientist.
Each year, the program’s cohort is a unique blend of undergraduate and graduate students working towards STEM degrees, and their projects contribute to the interests of foreign faculty members in an array of research areas.
For some students, the IRES program is their first research experience with NC State and leads to an increased desire to attend graduate school. Program alumni are the recipients of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and are now graduate students at universities like Cornell, Penn State, UC Santa Barbara, and Rice University.
Jones credits the engaging foreign mentors as well as the attractive Australian location as part of the IRES program’s success. Students have the opportunity to take part in cultural excursions to explore Australia outside of the research laboratory.
Beyond the IRES program, Jones and other NC State faculty are working towards continued collaboration between the university and UNSW. An international grant from UNSW has sponsored cohorts of Australian undergraduate students to come to NC State’s engineering labs during their summer break.
Submitting the proposal for an IRES grant was a personal choice for Jones that has ultimately created a lasting impact for the program’s participants. “I think wanting to do it for personal reasons is the only way you can support it,” said Jones. “I’m doing this because I want the students to have this experience.”