Bioengineering education research

Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates


The BER REU ran from 2010 to 2012.  Below are some of the projects students worked on.

Below is a sampling of abstracts for just a few of the projects the BER REU performed during this period.  These abstracts were written by the students who performed the project under the supervision of their mentors. 

Global Competence in Engineering Students (2010)

Mentor: Stacy Klein-Gardner, Vanderbilt
Student: Alanna Walker, Clemson University

This summer research project had two objectives: (1) to determine which dimensions of global competence are most important for engineering graduates to possess; and (2) to develop an assessment tool to determine whether or not studying abroad affects engineering students’ global competence.

The first objective was addressed by creating a survey that was an expansion of the survey discussed in Parkinson et al’s 2009 paper. The Parkinson et al study defined 13 dimensions of global competence and determined which ones were most important according to experts in academia and industry. This study increased the sample size and asked more demographic questions, leading to more in depth analysis. The demographic questions allowed for the exploration of relationships between a person’s international background and his or her perception of global competence. The top five highest rated dimensions of global competence were: (1) the ability to communicate across cultures; (2) the ability to appreciate other cultures; (3) a proficiency working in or directing a team of ethnic and cultural diversity; (4) the ability to effectively deal with ethical issues arising from cultural or national differences; (5) possessing understanding of cultural differences relating to product design, manufacture, and use; (5) possessing understand implications of cultural differences of how engineering tasks might be approached. The second objective was investigated by creating a mixed-methods questionnaire designed to be used by engineering universities to assess the effect that their study abroad programs have on their engineering students. This assessment tool is intended to be given to engineering students before and after their study abroad experience. The questionnaire contains sections that will collect qualitative, quantitative, and demographic data. It will not only record the students’ perceived global competence, but it will also measure their ability to respond to a culturally diverse scenario in a way that displays global competence (or lack thereof). Their response to the scenario will hopefully allow a change in the students’ global competence to be detected as a result of their study abroad experiences.

Additionally, this research project was supplemented with a course to review and practice technical communication in bioengineering and ethical considerations surrounding human subjects research. The need for consent forms and an external approval process for a study were made clear through the readings and ethical discussions. Since this research involved work with human subjects, the study was approved by the Institutional Review Board, which made the ethical discussions very relevant to the research conducted.


Grand Challenge Scholars Program (2011)

Mentor: Christina White and Tony Petrosino, University of Texas at Austin
Student: Rachel Alexander, Rice University 

This summer I had the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects at the University of Texas at Austin.  I served as a mentor during the two-week summer robotics camp for underprivileged middle school students, Beyond Blackboards, where I learned about the value of mentoring to both the students and the mentor. Through DTEACh, I also had the opportunity to mentor teachers undergoing professional development to learn the same engineering skills we had taught the students in camp so that they could apply these skills to their own lessons. I also worked with my mentor, Dr. Christina White, in starting up a Grand Challenge Scholars Program (GCSP) at the University of Texas, in which the students enrolled will spend their college careers performing research and engineering design around one of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges. I worked with a team to create a variety of curricular materials as well as recruitment strategies for the program. Working with the GCSP led me to my own research – designing an improved curricular model for a high school course in engineering design, modeled loosely after the GCSP. Through the BER REU program itself, I was also exposed to units on medical and clinical ethics, as well as technical communication.


Applying How People Learn (HPL) Principles to a Dialysis Based Physiology Lab (2012)

Mentor: David Schneeweis, Northwestern University
Student: Arun Singh, Syracuse University

University level education has been primarily focused on 50-60 minute classes that are primarily lectures, with little discussion time added in. Although this technique has been working for some time in helping students obtain knowledge, recent research shows there that interactive teaching techniques grant student a better ability to apply their knowledge appropriately. One form of this kind of teaching is known as challenge-based instruction (CBI), and is based on principles from the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, authored by John Bransford, Ann Brown and Rodney Cocking. Rather than listening to the professor spend the entire class on a lecture, students are engaged by CBI through discussion with the professor and each other.            

The purpose of my project, supervised by David Schneeweis, was to redesign an existing junior level physiology lab to make it challenge based rather than “cookbook-based.” The lab uses a dialyzer-circuit to replicate the human kidney, and has students make measurements to learn about filtration rate and its driving forces. Currently, students are given the lab manual and a prebuilt circuit, and they follow the instructions to make measurements, obtain data and create graphs to learn relationships between variables. Our goal this summer 2012 was to redesign the lab to help students truly understand what happens in the circuit and why, instead of giving them the circuit and the instructions, and letting them almost mindlessly, in a sense, go through the lab. We also wanted to incorporate data analysis in MATLAB so that the students would learn how to be proficient in MATLAB while realizing the significance of uncertainty and confidence intervals.