Program Overview

The Cleveland State University Rehabilitation Engineering (RE @ CSU) ten-week summer research experience for undergraduates (REU) program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is centered around integrated learning communities that surround REU students with peers, mentors, medical professionals, and people with disabilities. 

Participating students will receive a $6,000 stipend, room and board at Cleveland State University, and be reimbursed for travel expenses to and from Cleveland.

2017 RE@CSU Cohort


The 2010 census estimates that 18.7% of Americans live with a disability. The number of people with disabilities will increase in the United States in the coming decades due to an aging population and advances in medicine that extend the lives of people with chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes) and victims of traumatic accidents (e.g., car crashes). The National Academies specifically state a need for technology to address the challenges of disabilities. Despite the national need for rehabilitation technology, opportunities to enter the field of rehabilitation engineering are limited for many students. As most rehabilitation research occurs at universities with medical schools or in cities with research hospitals, students from institutions without these resources are excluded from active participation in this field. It is well-known that people with disabilities, women, and members of certain ethnic and racial groups are underrepresented in engineering and computer science. At the same time, people from these groups, specifically African Americans and women, have higher rates of disability than the general population. Therefore there is a critical need  to increase and diversify the population of students equipped to pursue careers in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. Without such a large and diverse population of engineers and computer scientists, the potential of technology to address the challenges of disability will not be fully realized.

The RE @ CSU Program’s long-term goals are to create technologies to improve the lives of people with disabilities and to train engineers and computer scientists to do the same. The overall objective is to create an immersive experience in rehabilitation research that will help motivate and prepare a diverse group of students to pursue careers in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. The faculty mentors are well-prepared to offer such a program given their combination of experience in rehabilitation research, proven commitment to undergraduate research, and clinical experience. The overall objective can be broken down into the following objectives:

  • Immerse a diverse group of undergraduate engineering and computer science students in the challenges of developing technology to restore daily function to people who have limited ability to move their arms and legs.
  • Motivate students to pursue future opportunities in rehabilitation and assistive technology.
  • Empower students to succeed in careers in rehabilitation and assistive technology.

Integrated Learning Communities

Each student will be placed into one of seven integrated learning communities (see Student Projects) based on the student’s interests. One or two REU students will be assigned to each integrated learning community which will operate independently as a laboratory group, but will also interact with the larger community of rehabilitation and assistive technology researchers at CSU. Besides the REU student, each integrated learning community or laboratory group will have the following members:

  • CSU Undergraduate Student. A CSU student with experience in the lab group will support the REU student in fitting in with the intellectual and social culture of the lab, university, and Cleveland communities. This might include showing the REU student how to operate lab equipment, introducing the REU student to other students on campus, or recommending recreational activities.
  • CSU Graduate Student. The grad student will act as an informal mentor for the REU student. The grad student will give technical guidance, help the REU student trouble shoot problems, and offer examples of productive work habits and of high-quality work.
  • Primary Faculty Mentor. The primary faculty mentor is the director of the integrated learning community. The faculty mentor will assign a project (see Student Projects) to the REU student and guide the student in developing and achieving goals for the summer project.
  • Secondary Faculty Mentor. The secondary mentor will be a faculty member participating in RE @ CSU who is not intimately involved with the specific research project. When the primary mentor is a physical therapist, the secondary mentor will be an engineer who offers technical guidance. When the primary mentor is an engineer, the secondary mentor will be from another engineering discipline or from physical therapy.
  • Person with a Disability. The RE @ CSU students will meet with a person with a disability related to the students’ research and bring back those experiences to the other members of the learning community.

RE @ CSU Seminar Series

Each week the integrated learning communities will come together at the RE @ CSU Seminar. The entire group of REU students along with CSU undergraduate and graduate students, faculty mentors, clinical partners, and persons affected by disabilities will participate during the seminars. Each seminar will last for two hours. The first 45 minutes will be instructional. The next 30 minutes will be a working lunch where students interact with each other, their mentors, and/or any panel members. The final 45 minutes will be interactive where students are giving and soliciting feedback relevant to the seminar topic.

Seminar Topics Include
  • Orientation, expectations, and professionalism
  • Faculty mentor research overviews
  • Individuals with disabilities panel
  • Engineering and health professional interdisciplinary panel
  • Interdisciplinary discussions of student research plans
  • Research ethics/human subjects research
  • Job search workshop
  • How to give a research talk or poster presentation workshop
  • Graduate school application workshop
  • Mini-conference with local high school students

The series is designed to immerse the REU students in rehabilitation research by hearing perspectives of other laboratory groups and of patients and medical professionals, to motivate REU students by showing them the impact they can make in engineering and computer science, and to engage REU students with stakeholders in their learning process. The job search, graduate school application, and the research ethics seminar will give REU students specific tools to empower students to take the next steps in their careers. The interdisciplinary discussions of research plans workshop, presentation seminar, and the mini-conference with local will help REU students develop the skills to communicate with broader audiences.

Health Care and Patient Experiences

Each student will have at least three interactions with people who have limited use of their arms or legs along with the health care professionals who work with these people. Two of these interactions will occur within the large community during the RE @ CSU seminars. After each of the panel discussions each panel member will then join an integrated learning community for lunch and an informal small group discussion. At least one other interaction will take place in a clinical research laboratory or an operating room. This interaction aims to get the students off campus and in an environment where technology they develop is applied. Specific examples of these interactions for the integrated learning communities are described in Student Projects.

Each RE @ CSU student will keep a journal documenting interactions with patients and health care professionals. Before each interaction the student will write down her perceptions of the people she will meet, questions, any anxieties about the interaction, and an idea about technology that might be useful to the patient or health care professional. After each session the student will write down whether or not her perceptions were accurate, answers to questions, whether any anxieties were lessened or increased or changed in nature, and a revised idea about technology. Each integrated learning community will discuss these patient interactions.

Demonstration Day

During the final week of the summer program we will host students from MC2STEM High School, which is housed on the CSU campus, for a day of interactive laboratory demonstrations. The REU students will create demonstrations and engage high school students in a hands-on experience.  After the demonstrations, the REU students and the high school students will share a picnic lunch.

My Engineering Story Video

RE @ CSU students will be featured in a “My Engineering Story” video. The students will tell their personal stories about how they became interested  in engineering or computer science, what they did over the summer, and what they plan to do in  the future. To prepare for the videos students will keep journals throughout the summer with their impressions of their experiences and use material from their journals to write one-page scripts for their videos.

Conference Presentations

The goal for each RE @ CSU student is to submit an abstract and present her research at a technical meeting where other researchers can learn from and build upon the findings of the research. The particular conference will depend on the quality of the student’s research and the area of research. We expect many students will present at a regional or student conference, but exceptional students will submit to conferences with higher peer review standards. Additionally, some students will likely be coauthors on journal or conference papers for which their faculty or graduate student mentors are primary authors.