Presentation #315.02 in the session College Education and Outreach Programs.
Research internships and professional mentoring are fundamental in early stages for the successful development of young astronomers. Current undergraduate students are encouraged to (1) obtain an intern position and prepare well in advance their applications in order to increase their chances of getting a graduate school offer. This situation sets up a challenging environment for international students as most of these internships (NASA, REUs, ESA, etc.) are strictly restricted for their nationals citizens and the mentoring is very limited. With the emergence of COVID-19, these internship programs had to be temporarily moved to be fully remote making them more accessible in terms of resources and displacements and, at the same time, demonstrating that scientific research can be successfully conducted remotely.
With the aim of supporting undergraduate students in Astronomy at Colombian institutions, and taking advantage of the current virtuality, we started a mentoring and internship programs called RECA. The first RECA mentoring program started in 2020 (2nd version is currently ongoing) where 24 students in Colombian institutions were guided by experienced scientists on how they should prepare their applications for graduate schools. So far, 14 students have received scholarships from different places around the world.
The first RECA internship program consisted of 13 projects led by professional astronomers around the globe who selected a student in a Colombian institution to develop a research project for 10 weeks during summer 2021. During this time, the students developed their scientific research, received advanced lectures in astrophysics, had the opportunity to remotely observe with telescopes in La Palma, submit their results for an Astrobito publication and present their results to the community in a virtual symposium.
Both RECA programs (mentoring and internship) have shown that virtuality provides an opportunity for international undergraduate students to (1) prepare successful graduate applications with the appropriate guidance, and (2) develop scientific skills that can help them to overcome the current barriers to do edge-cutting research. We expect to expand this internship to other countries with similar needs where the opportunities to do research are limited. The LSST Corporation and the IAU have awarded grants to guarantee the continuity of these RECA programs, which are increasing the opportunities of students from developing countries to engage with scientific research looking forward to a more equitable world.