Students (“Trekkers”) are placed in small multi-disciplinary groups and are required to suggest, define, plan and execute a research project that will be performed in a location unfamiliar to the group. Trekkers are encouraged to suggest research projects that will require them to travel outside their local state and if possible, out of the country. As an example, an electrical engineering student, currently doing research in circuit design, could suggest that the group investigate farm techniques. The group may then decide to build an irrigation system in a third-world country, which would alert farmers on when their crops are in need of hydration or nutrition. A mentor with experience in the field of the research will be available to guide the Trekkers throughout the entire process. The data collection part of the research project will be completed over a period of a few weeks during the summer break immediately after the semester ends for the Trekkers. (This will allow the Trekkers to have the remainder of the break to pursue internships, jobs, additional academic courses or more.) During this time, the Trekkers will live together with i-Trek graduate school volunteers and the mentor for intense days of focused research, evenings of career development, networking with STEM professionals and participation in a local community service project.
In order to assist in financially supporting these research projects, each group must find ways to raise funds. Traditional paths such as finding sponsors and applying for grants are encouraged, as well as non-traditional paths, such as crowd sourcing. While i-Trek will provide financial assistance independent of the Trekkers fund-raising, the ultimate goal is for the Trekkers to learn how to find funding because this is something they may need to do as future graduate students and/or entrepreneurs.
At the completion of each project, Trekkers must prepare a presentation of their work to an i-Trek management/oversight panel. After this formal presentation, Trekkers will then take their project to neighboring high schools, where their work along with other smaller projects the organization has completed, is presented to the students. All this, is an effort to stimulate more interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields among underrepresented and underserved groups. This final presentation concludes the Trekker’s research project.