Princess Imoukhuede, Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


University of Illinois (UIUC) lags in undergraduate research.
Undergraduate research participation at the UIUC is low compared to our peer institutions: ~50% of UIUC College of Engineering undergraduates perform research1, while MIT boasts 89% undergraduate research participation rate2. Participation rates reveal an unmet need to better engage these students in research.

Research engagement is important.
Undergraduate research can serve as a "key determinant" in creating pathways to STEM careers3. As such, targeted undergraduate research engagement could offer the opportunity to improve STEM career access to traditionally excluded students, such as women and URMs. Indeed, women's participation in undergraduate research increases career possibility awareness4, perceived ability to think and work independently4, while preparing women for science careers5. Undergraduate research also offers significant STEM engagement for URMs with one study finding research significantly increased chances of graduation and high-academic performance in the STEM major studied6.

Fertile ground for research engagement.
The UIUC Bioengineering Department, offers an ideal environment to engage women and URMs via undergraduate research. In particular, the Department of Bioengineering boasts 45% female undergraduate enrollment, which is over 2.5 times higher than enrollment across the College of Engineering, and the department URM enrollment increased by over 70% in the last year.

Need to expand research access earlier.
Most undergraduate research programs engage students via summer research experiences, independent study, and other campus research initiatives7. However, each pathway requires self-selection; therefore, students without a privileged understanding of undergraduate research opportunities and their benefits may have "unequal access" to opportunities8. Students who do participate are usually juniors or seniors7, further narrowing the pipeline. These challenges represent a need to expand research access at earlier undergraduate stages.

Core course embedding can address UIUC needs.
Embedding research into introductory, core courses would address both needs: early involvement and increased access. Indeed, several foundations, including the National Science Foundation7, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching9, and others10 endeavor to embed undergraduate research with teaching. However, such efforts have not made their way to UIUC. If they did, research participation would increase.
PI's teaching, commitment, and expertise can promote research pathways. I am uniquely positioned to lead efforts to embed undergraduate research within a core course given my teaching experience, commitment to undergraduate research, and research in engineering education.

Recognized teaching excellence.
Firstly, I currently teach the sophomore core course, BIOE 201: Conservation Principles for Bioengineering. BIOE201 is the first course Bioengineering majors take, so it offers the ideal environment for research engagement efforts. To achieve teaching excellence, I participated in a year-long training program and was named a 2013 UIUC Collins Fellow. In 2014, I was commended by the UIUC Center for Teaching Excellence, and was included in their annual list of EXCELLENT instructors.

Commitment to undergraduate research.
Secondly, I demonstrated my commitment to engaging undergraduates in research. Since starting at UIUC, I have mentored over 50 undergraduates in Bioengineering research and over 70% of trainees were women and URM students. Researchers have been very successful, earning awards from the American Heart Association, AMGEN, Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES), North American Vascular Biology Organization, and the UIUC Office of Undergraduate Research. Students presented their work at several meetings and symposia, including BMES National Meeting and Ronald McNair Scholars Research Conference. Many researchers matriculated to doctoral programs (e.g., MIT, Caltech, Case Western, Columbia, and Boston University, among others) and medical schools (e.g., Indiana University, Midwestern University, and University of Texas). Furthermore, my integration of research with teaching extends to my upper-level Systems Biology course (BIOE498/598), where students from the spring 2014 offering published a perspective article on systems biology.

Research in engineering education.
I am engaged in engineering education research, adopting new practices, and I perform primary research11-13 that transforms teaching and learning. My efforts and recent successes indicate a high potential to positively impact the undergraduate student experience, if such efforts are defined, studied, and disseminated.

Complementary to NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED).
I currently serve as a Senior Personnel on the recently awarded NSF RED Program Grant to the UIUC Department of Bioengineering. One of our major objectives within the RED grant was to "Reorganize courses and faculty teaching efforts into need-driven curriculum tracks to manage sustainability and satisfy both bioengineering and medical education needs." I have consulted with other RED team members and a RED program manager, and they all confirm that these are high-impact goals that are complementary to our UIUC RED program.


My course objective is to create undergraduate research pathways by embedding systems biology research into the core course. I develop pathways via three aims, as follows:

Aim 1: Introduce students to research via a course project.

Aim 2: Provide a pathway to research via independent study.

Aim 3: Evaluate program outcomes.


These efforts offer a transformative educational program with high impact to the student, university, and higher education. Firstly, students gain practical training in scientific research, relevant applications of course principles, and an invaluable opportunity to work alongside leading experts in cutting-edge research. Gains inevitably aid student development via their undergraduate career and inspire innovation, while preparing them for graduate and professional school or engineering careers. My BIOE201 section has historically attracted a disproportionality higher number of women and minorities so this approach significantly engages women and URMs. Furthermore, the proposed work significantly impacts all levels of the university. At the Departmental level, it provides a pool of well-trained students to perform undergraduate research. At the College level, lessons learned can serve as a model for research embedding across engineering core courses. At the University level, we can increase overall undergraduate access to research. My proven commitment to evaluate and disseminate engineering educational advancements also aids the STEM community in adopting our best practices to ultimately broaden STEM participation while progressing higher education.



1. Undergraduate Opportunities. (12/02/14),

2. Academics & Research. (12/02/14),

3. Taraban, R.; Prensky, E.; Bowen, C. W., Critical Factors in the Undergraduate Research Experience. In Creating Effective Undergraduate Research Programs in Science: The transformation from Student to Scientist, Taraban, R.; Blanton, R. L., Eds. Teachers College Press: Columbia University, 2008; pp 172-188.

4. Kardash, C. A. M.; Wallace, M.; Blockus, L., Undergraduate Research Experiences: Male and Female Interns' Perceptions of Gains, Disappointments, and Self-Efficacy. In Creating Effective Undergraduate Research Programs in Science: The transformation from Student to Scientist, Taraban, R.; Blanton, R. L., Eds. Teachers College Press: Columbia University, 2008; pp 191-205.

5. Campbell, A.; Skoog, G. D., Transcending Deficits and Differences Through Undergraduate Research. In Creating Effective Undergraduate Research Programs in Science: The transformation from Student to Scientist, Taraban, R.; Blanton, R. L., Eds. Teachers College Press: Columbia University, 2008; pp 206-211.

6. Jones, M. T.; Barlow, A. E.; Villarejo, M., (2010) Importance of Undergraduate Research for Minority Persistence and Achievement in Biology, The Journal of Higher Education, 81(1): 82-115.

7. Szteinberg, G. A.; Weaver, G. C., (2013) Participants' reflections two and three years after an introductory chemistry course-embedded research experience, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 14(1): 23-35.

8. Wayment, H. A.; Dickson, K. L., (2008) Increasing Student Participation in Undergraduate Research Benefits Students, Faculty, and Department, Teaching of Psychology, 35(3): 194-197.

9. University, B. C. o. E. U. i. t. R. Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for
America's Research Universities; Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Stoney Brook, NY, 1998; p 53p.

10. Wink, D. J.; Weaver, G. C., Evaluation of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education
(CASPiE) model of undergraduate research In Evidence on Promising Practices in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Workshop, The National Academies of Sciences, E., and Medicine: Board on Science Education, Ed. Washington, DC, 2008; p 14p.

11. Amos, J.; Vogel, T.; Imoukhuede, P. In Assessing teaming skills and major identity through collaborative sophomore design projects across disciplines, American Society for Engineering Education Conference Proceedings, 2015.

12. David Rosch, P. I. I. In Teambuilding & Leadership Interventions Improve Undergraduate Bioengineering Students' Leadership Self-Construal, Biomedical Engineering Society Tampa, FL, 2015; Tampa, FL.

13. Rosch, D. M.; Imoukhuede, P. I., (2016) Improving Bioengineering Student Leadership Identity Via Training and Practice within the Core-Course, Annals of Biomedical Engineering: 1-13.

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