Motivating students through Saudi Summer Internship program

Twenty-nine Saudi undergraduate students took part in this year's KAUST Saudi Summer Internship (SSI) program, which introduced them to University research. File photo.

-By Omar Shamma, KAUST News

Five years ago, the KAUST Saudi Summer Internship (SSI) program began with only six visiting students. This year, 29 undergraduate students from top universities in Saudi Arabia participated in the eight to 12 week-long program, which introduced them to research in the University's Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Science and Engineering (CEMSE) division. Each student was assigned to a CEMSE lab, completing research there alongside a KAUST faculty member.

Dr. Tareq Al-Naffouri, KAUST associate professor and lead faculty member involved in SSI, noted the program has been steadily growing in the quality and number of students since its inception, allowing interns to participate in graduate-level research; develop their English language skills; and create effective poster designs to communicate their work.

On August 6, the students participated in the SSI Poster Competition on campus, setting up their research posters for their faculty mentors and the rest of the KAUST academic community to view. The poster session at the conclusion of the program helped students summarize what they worked on during SSI and gave them a chance to see the results of their fellow participants' work.

A poster competition for participating students and the KAUST academic community concluded the SSI program on August 6 this year. File photo.

Posters were branded with the logo from each lab where the students worked, with visitors to the competition asking students questions about their research and their summer experience at the University. They also awarded the students' posters with four different colored Post-It notes, with each color corresponding to one of four categories: Understandable; Academically Sound and Intelligent; Engaging and Entertaining; and Aesthetically Pleasing.

Abdulmohsen Alsaui, an SSI participant from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), noted, "I am happy that when I go back to my home university, I can explain to people what I did at KAUST and I can use [my] poster as a presentation of my work, making it easy to communicate what I did."

An SSI student shows off his poster during the program's poster competition on August 6. File photo.

"It was amazing working in the labs. It was so fun," said Asmaa Al-Saggaf, an undergraduate student at King Abdulaziz University and an intern in the University's Robotics, Intelligent Systems, and Control (RISC) lab. "Some obstacles brought me down while working on my project, but the KAUST lab environment helped me overcome them."

"I feel like when I go back to university, I now have more motivation to study. If someone asked me to explain the best thing I got from coming to KAUST, I would tell them it is that now I have more motivation to study and gain a better understanding of my courses," Alsaui added.

Members of the KAUST academic community judged the SSI students' posters on several different criteria during the on campus poster session on August 6. File photo.

SSI projects do not always end with the closing poster session. Students from local universities are provided with weekly transportation to KAUST to work on any continuing projects.

"Some interns from local universities continue to work on their summer projects by commuting to KAUST once per week during the academic year. Some interns coming from universities like KFUPM, with which we have joint projects, continue their summer research with our collaborators there," Al-Naffouri said.

At the conclusion of the poster session, SSI faculty tallied up the number of Post-It notes on each poster and acknowledged the students with highest number in that category. Student Suhail Aldhurais had the most "Understandable" presentation. Participant Sarah Basyouni's poster was the most "Academically Sound and Intelligent" and the most "Engaging and Enjoyable." Students Hamad Alsayegh and Ahmed Almehdhar tied with fellow SSI participants Abdullah Zayat and Safwan for the most "Aesthetically Pleasing" presentation.

SSI students discussed their posters and research work with each other during the August 6 poster competition. File photo.

This year's SSI students have now returned to their home universities, but Al-Naffouri is confident in the future of SSI.

"The internship allows KAUST faculty to closely work with the visiting students and get to know the schools they're coming from. Through this interaction and through [the] poster competition, an increasing number of faculty [members] are better able to gauge local students and are encouraged to consider them as visiting or even full-time students [at KAUST]," he said.

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