CREST Center IDEALS Program Shapes Future Science Leaders — Dr. Richard Monge

by Sofia Canonge

The CREST Center for Interface Design and Engineered Assembly of Low-Dimensional Systems (IDEALS), established in 2016 at CCNY, has dedicated itself to designing and exploring new materials while recruiting and training students from various backgrounds.

Funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) initiative, the program aims to enhance research capabilities at minority-serving institutions. By enriching the doctoral and postdoctoral experience, the CREST Center IDEALS program fosters the development of future global science and engineering leaders, such as recent PhD graduate Richard Monge.

In 2018, Monge began to pursue his PhD in Physics at the CUNY Graduate Center and was introduced to the CREST Center IDEALS program by his advisor. The support network promised by the program was instrumental in Monge’s decision to join, he said.

“My advisor mentioned this funding opportunity and suggested I apply immediately,” Monge said in an interview with The RICC. “The program looked very supportive and offered not just financial support but also opportunities to attend conferences, participate in workshops and collaborate with professors and peers.”

Monge’s research interests have evolved significantly during his time in the program. Initially focused on using atomic force microscopy (AFM) for magnetic field nanoscale sensing, he transitioned to focusing his research on areas with more unexplored potential, exploring phenomena of solid-state emitters at extremely low temperatures.

The CREST Center IDEALS program provides students with various networking experiences and professional planning resources that shape their growth as researchers.

Monge shared that one of his most memorable experiences at the program was attending the Emerging Researchers National Conference. Program director Maria Tamargo encouraged him to present one of his research projects during the event, and he was grateful for the opportunity to showcase his research and receive feedback from peers.

“I believe critical feedback is important for my growth as a researcher,” Monge shared. “At the conference, I improved my ability to talk about my research and defend it so others can provide me with their thoughts.”

Monge also highlighted the program’s emphasis on mentorship as a key component of his development. He guided undergraduate students through their research projects and enhanced his organizational and planning skills, which are essential traits for any scientist or professional.

Monge defended his thesis, “Dynamics of Spin and Charge of Color Centers in Diamond Under Cryogenic Conditions,” and received his PhD in September 2023. As Monge transitions into his NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellowship at Professor Carlos Meriles’ Laboratory at CCNY, the skills and knowledge gained from the CREST Center IDEALS program continue to serve him well.

“Time management, collaboration and the specific knowledge in my field are all skills I got from the program and will continue applying in all my work,” Monge said.

Dr. Monge at the Emerging Researchers National Conference. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Monge.

While reflecting on his journey, Monge offered advice to future CREST IDEALS students:

“Take every opportunity the program offers,” he said. “Attend workshops and presentations and interact with fellow students. You never know when a single interaction might spike a new idea or project.”

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