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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Colleen Crouch

Colleen is exploring. She grew up on a farm and went to college in a big city. She lived in the Southeast and on the West coast. Now she’s enjoying what the Midwest has to offer. “Ann Arbor offered a chance for something completely new. I wanted to explore a different part of the country. I also wanted a school with Division 1 sports – I have season tickets to football and hockey.”

Colleen says research is a major component of choosing and staying at U-M. Outside interests play a part, too: “One factor important to me was the school spirit at U-M. I wanted a sense of community that’s around the spirit of the school, which can be hard to find as a grad student.”

Colleen is in her third year of the mechanical engineering program but her research is in biomedical engineering. “That is the interdisciplinary nature of U-M; I can work in different labs. I have lab mates in biomedical engineering.” Specifically, Colleen participates in a preclinical MRI research lab studying thermoregulation – how a human regulates body temperature by studying small animal models. Her research interest is the result of a long hot summer in Atlanta when she was training for a half-marathon. “We were talking about how difficult it was to run in the heat. I wanted to figure out what is happening in the cardiovascular system in terms of thermoregulation. That interest in the cardiovascular system is what brought me to Michigan.”

And life in Michigan is working out well for her. She shares, “It’s been fantastic. I’ve been able to create my own project. I’ve been able to take the lead on my own research. It can be tough to study what someone else wants you to study. My advisor let me make those choices – that can be rare.”

She continues, “I want to understand how the cardiovascular system reacts, how the materials in our bodies react. They are like pipes, and I am curious about how those pipes are affected by temperature. My first project was to determine if we can quantify it mathematically using MRIs.”

Her second project is currently underway to surgically study the temperature effects on vessels in rats. She explains, “So far, we are finding interesting results. Possibly these vessels are not behaving like we thought they were. This could have big implications on surgery techniques – how to cool somebody, how to deliver care pre- and post- op. This research could do things like identify if there is an optimal way to heat or cool our astronauts. We could also determine how to effectively cool someone in a niche group, like the elderly.”

While her work is purely experimental now, her goal is to identify computer modeling for many different scenarios. Then it becomes wash, rinse, repeat: “Create, model, validate; create, model, validate. Then I can use the end model for niche areas like astronauts, elderly, and children.”

Her outlook helps find successful ways to handle the pressure of graduate school. She states, “Grad school is so different from undergrad. I consider this a job, which I love. U-M has been great, but it is challenging to balance everything. I’ve gotten a lot better at that. With my friends and labmates, I’ve found a great support group, but it took a while to find that. Once found, it’s been amazing. Because of the groups I’m part of, they are across the College of Engineering and campus, really. What I’ve found is that student groups have been integral in making those groups of friends.”

As a division 2 representative and student life chair for Rackham Student Government, Colleen spends a lot of time planning social activities for grad students, including the long-awaited Fall Ball. “So many of my friends in engineering are international students, and they have repeatedly heard about high school proms and undergraduate formals. This was one factor in planning a grad school ball for grad students.” 

Colleen has a lot of energy, and she needs it: “That is the good and the bad of people reaching out to grad students for projects. I’m busy with RSG and am the co-chair for the Engineering Graduate Symposium (EGS) at the College of Engineering. I am also active in recruiting graduate students. I was recruited to U-M because of EGS and I want to give that back.”

When not in the lab, you may find Colleen out of town. “I travel a lot. One of my criteria for a graduate program was proximity to a major airport. I love doing new and random things. When I first got here, my parents bought me snowshoes, so I started showshoeing to work. I found the U-M sailing club and learned to sail this summer. I love being outdoors and try to camp in the UP every year. I want to see more of Michigan. Now I want to see different parts of Michigan. If someone says, lets’ go here or go to the show or to something new, I’m there.”

Where Colleen ends up after completing her doctorate is more about geography than job because she’s clear on her career path. “I would love to be a professor. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and it is a lofty goal to be a fully tenured professor, but that’s where my passion lies. I love being a GSI, and I was a teaching assistant all through undergrad. I was even subbing for my math teacher in high school. Of course, I want to leave the door open.”