Undergraduate research opportunities expand

New fellowship gives engineering students early access to research experience

Alan Fullenkamp, an undergraduate biomedical engineering student at the University of Cincinnati, hopes to attend medical school. To prepare, Fullenkamp wanted to work in a lab doing research. A new undergraduate research fellowship at UC helped make his research goals a reality.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at UC has a mandatory cooperative education (co-op) program integrated into the curriculum that enables undergraduate students to gain almost two years of paid industry work experience before graduation. In addition to working for such companies as Apple, Procter and Gamble, Messer Construction, GE Aviation and more, CEAS students can choose a co-op focused on research. Research co-ops consist of options in corporate, university and government labs, including at UC. Many students opt for this path if they are considering a career in research or they plan to attend graduate or medical school.

CEAS introduced the Undergraduate Research Fellowship this year that further encourages and supports more CEAS students who are seeking to gain experience in UC research labs. 

“We want to encourage our accomplished students to engage in research and scholarship with our faculty who continuously push the limits of knowledge in their technical fields,” said Gautam Pillay, CEAS associate dean for research. “Students who want to apply what they’re learning in the classroom can consider this program as a means to provide competitive support for a full-time co-op, to give them new skills in state-of-the-art research, and to take credit for their work by publishing their results in prestigious scientific journals.”

Fullenkamp, who will graduate in 2022, previously worked for two co-op semesters at medical device company Zimmer Biomet as a product development engineer. When he decided he wanted to pursue medical school, he realized research experience would also be helpful — and it’s a requirement for applying to some medical schools. So, he reached out to John Martin, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UC, about a possible research opportunity in the Bioresponsive Materials Lab.

Martin said the funding through the fellowship allowed him to bring Fullenkamp on to his research team full-time for the Spring 2021 semester. Fullenkamp is participating in Martin’s research developing controlled drug delivery using “smart” biomaterials.   

“Research really lets students have independence and hone their problem-solving skills to set them apart in either the private sector or going into medical or graduate school,” Martin said. “It’s great experience as an undergraduate that they otherwise would have a hard time getting.” 

For Fullenkamp, the research co-op is challenging him in ways different from his industry co-ops. 

“There are no set protocols for what I am doing because nobody has ever done it before, which is why it’s being researched,” he said. “Because of this it takes much more critical thinking and application of what we do know, to what we do not.”

In addition to research co-ops at UC and at outside labs, CEAS also offers the Protégé Undergraduate Research Program, which gives first-year students early access to research experience through a paid summer position working with UC faculty researchers or industry partners. 

Featured image at top: Microscopes in a lab. Photo/Ousa Chea/Unsplash.

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