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REU: A Balancing Act

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ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference


Waco, Texas

Publication Date

March 24, 2021

Start Date

March 24, 2021

End Date

March 26, 2021

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Margo Cousins University of Texas at Austin

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Ms. Cousins leads the academic advising team for Biomedical Engineering (BME) bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs since 2011. She oversees programming and advising activities aimed at improving student success and professional development for all BME students. In addition to advising students individually, Ms. Cousins: teaches professional development workshops; facilitates first-year student interest groups; facilitates the department’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site BME CUReS Cancer weekly summer seminars; maps global exchange pathways to expand access to study abroad; partners with industry & clinical sponsors in the Capstone Design Program; and leads ABET engineering and SACSCOC regional accreditation activities for the BME department. Her academic interests include implementing and measuring psychosocial interventions that have been demonstrated to improve success for targeted at-risk populations, such as social-belongingness, growth mindset, and self-efficacy. Ms. Cousins holds a Master of Arts in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) from Michigan State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Washington State University. She has worked in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin since 2005.

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Laura Suggs University of Texas at Austin


Mia K. Markey University of Texas at Austin

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Dr. Mia K. Markey is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Cullen Trust for Higher Education Endowed Professorship in Engineering #1 at The University of Texas at Austin as well as Adjunct Professor of Imaging Physics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Markey is a 1994 graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. She has a B.S. in computational biology (Carnegie Mellon, 1998). Dr. Markey earned her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering (2002), along with a certificate in bioinformatics, from Duke University. Dr. Markey has been recognized for excellence in research and teaching with awards from organizations such as the American Medical Informatics Association, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Cancer Society, and the Society for Women’s Health Research. She is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and is a Senior Member of both the IEEE and the SPIE.

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Faculty and staff leading Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) can perceive a conflict between the goals of their funding agency, which often wants to offer research opportunities to students who otherwise may not have them, and their institution, which wants to "preview" future experienced graduate students to enhance recruitment. Our purpose in this presentation is to share the approaches we have taken to balance these goals. Moreover, we will describe a webinar that we recently recorded on this topic and we will request that the ASEE GSW attendees participate in an evaluation of the webinar. Briefly, our approach to resolving this conflict in goals is to offer the REU experience to rising sophomores. Rising sophomores may otherwise not have had research opportunities or opportunities to receive mentoring early in their undergraduate studies. Participating in an REU program early in their college experience allows them more time to follow up and to prepare competitive applications for graduate school. However, offering the REU experience to rising sophomores requires careful consideration of the application process. Especially, how can you assess applicants’ potential fit for the REU experience given the limited track record of rising sophomores? Our approach is to look for characteristics and skills needed to become a successful researcher rather than a history of prior success in research. Likewise, offering the REU experience to rising sophomores requires careful consideration of how the applications are reviewed. We have developed an application review process that explicitly considers the goals of funding agencies and institutions. Our approach also emphasizes the characteristics of the cohort rather than just the those of the individual students. We implement these ideas in our application review by employing a modified draft pick process.

Cousins, M., & Suggs, L., & Markey, M. K. (2021, March), REU: A Balancing Act Paper presented at ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, Waco, Texas.

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