Center for Autonomy collaborates with universities to host undergraduate autonomous technology research program

Raiyan Shaik, Senior News Reporter

September 3, 2023

The Center for Autonomy at the Oden Institute hosted a new research program for undergraduates over the summer, providing students with the opportunity to gain experience in autonomous technology research.   

The program, known as the Introductory Research Experience in Autonomy and Control Technologies (REACT), is a collaboration between the University of Texas, Hampton University and the University of New Mexico, according to a recent press release. The NASA University Leadership Initiative in Safe Aviation Autonomy, the NASA University Leadership Initiative in Autonomous Systems and the NSF CPS Frontier in Cognitive Autonomy jointly funded the initiative.

“The benefit of this program is to allow students who want to get into research to have actual hands-on experience and what that actually looks like before they get started,” said technical project manager Joseph Segura-Conn. “It’s really important for them to come out here and get a firsthand look at what being a researcher [looks] like [and] what type of topics you could be researching.”

Several students majoring in various engineering disciplines from Hampton University and the University of New Mexico were flown out to UT to immerse themselves in projects focusing on various autonomous systems, including robotic navigation and machine learning. 

“A lot of the students didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they first signed up because it’s kind of a new endeavor,” Segura-Conn said. “But once they arrived, and by the time they were done, it seemed like it was a very close-knit group.” 

Graduate students from the Center for Autonomy acted as mentors for the program’s students. Once students were assigned their projects, the mentors assisted with research-related problems and questions about their careers or graduate school journeys. By the end of the program, students compiled their research into a final presentation.

“One of the coolest parts is when you’re mentoring somebody, and they have a light bulb moment,” said graduate research assistant Jacob Levy. “Most of them weren’t really sure what they wanted to do after they got their undergrad degree. By the end, [the program] definitely increased research interest among them.”

During the two-week program, students received access to labs along with meal plans and dorms. In addition to research, students also engaged in several socials and workshops during their stay.

“You can only learn so much in two weeks and do so much,” assistant professor David Fridovich-Keil. “The main idea was to give students that are high achieving and interested in the idea of research an opportunity to interact with people doing research, be embedded, get their hands a bit dirty, and have the opportunity to really ask questions about what the career path is like.”

Fridovich-Keil said he hopes the program will grow in following summers and host more students, including students from UT and potentially local high schools.

“REACT allowed us to spend invaluable time with experienced and knowledgeable individuals who we otherwise wouldn’t have had such easy access to,” said Noah Reboul, University of New Mexico student, in the press release. “It was a great opportunity.”

Submitted by Amy Karns on