Undergraduate Experiences in the Lab Engage Students in Biomedical Research

Achievement date: 

Twenty-five undergraduate students participated in university research in the inaugural year of the NSF-funded Precise Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Underserved Populations (PATHS-UP) Engineering Research Center (ERC), headquartered at Texas A&M University (TAMU), with partners from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Rice University, and Florida International University (FIU). Undergraduate research programs are an important part of efforts to attract students to work in research and technical fields supporting the Center’s mission by providing opportunities for students to learn and practice professional skills while making real-world contributions. To further support these efforts, PATHS-UP also established a website about their undergraduate program (https://pathsup.org/reu/) and secured $200K in supplemental Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) funds from NSF.


A key purpose of the PATHS-UP ERC is to recruit and educate a diverse group of scientists and engineers to lead future development of technologies to improve health in underserved communities. The 25 students participated in two PATHS-UP undergraduate programs the Center launched in 2018. Ten joined the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, while 15 participated in the multi-year Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program. REU is a 10-week summer program during which each student completes a research project in one of PATHS-UP’s priority areas, with the goal of developing enabling technologies and advanced engineered systems toward better healthcare. REU students receive a stipend while gaining leadership and communication skills as they learn to produce research results. VIPs provide students the opportunity to participate in PATHS-UP multidisciplinary research experiences while earning course credit. The team approach used in these programs engages more students than is possible in the one-to-one mentoring model characteristic of most undergraduate research programs.


Undergraduate researchers work at one of the four PATHS-UP partner institutions (TAMU, UCLA, RICE, FIU). For the REU, the Center emphasizes recruiting, supporting, and engaging a diverse group of undergraduates at all levels, including first year students majoring in STEM from across the nation and first year students from the partner institutions. REU participants work closely with faculty members, graduate students, and mentors on current research projects, make short progress presentations to their peers during program meetings, attend presentation skills workshops, make a formal poster presentation of their research experience at the end of the program, and submit a final report describing the results of their research. In VIP research, students participate at multiple levels (from freshman to senior) on the same team with graduate students in working on projects based on their PATHS-UP faculty mentor’s research. To accommodate the sizable undergraduate teams, the projects are long-term and large-scale. VIP learning outcomes focus on the development of both technical discipline and 21st century professional skills