Q&A with faculty mentor Rebecca Muenich

Posted on: October 19, 2022

Rebecca Muenich is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who has been mentoring FURI and MORE students for three years. She is inspired to address human-induced environmental issues and encourages her students to explore these topics in ways that interest them. As an ASU senior global futures scientist and Earth System Science for the Anthropocene faculty member in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Muenich is an excellent resource for students to get their start in making an impact in sustainability solutions.

What made you want to get involved as a FURI and MORE faculty mentor?

I really enjoy helping students with their first foray into research. I think sometimes students get bogged down in coursework and forget that the reason they chose engineering was because they were curious about something. And doing research to answer a specific question is a great way to bring them back to their intrinsic motivations for their degree. 

What is your favorite part about seeing your students conduct research?

I really enjoy watching the students grow throughout their projects, from knowing little to nothing about the topic when they start to becoming experts by the end. It’s really exciting to think about what contributions they’ll make in the future.

How have your student researchers had an effect on your research?

My general approach is to work with a student to find a project that is interesting to them — again securing more intrinsic motivation. This may or may not always line up exactly with what I am doing in my research grants, but always falls within the areas of my expertise. I had one student in particular who began a project that was a side interest of mine, but I didn’t have funding for it. This student had really interesting findings that we decided to expand upon in their master’s degree work (funded by MORE), leading to an interesting publication that we are now trying to leverage for other projects. 

What have you gained from being a mentor? How has the experience been rewarding for you?

In addition to gaining new ideas and ways of thinking by working with some amazing students, my greatest reward is really just seeing them utilize their experience with FURI and MORE to move onto the next step of their careers. 

What advice would you give to students who might be interested in participating in FURI or MORE?

Do it! But spend time identifying a mentor and topic that is interesting to you. If it’s not, you likely won’t put in the effort needed to get something really good out of it. And when you do your project, remember that failure is normal. Research is not perfect, linear or tidy. And that’s where you will learn the most.

Why should other faculty members become FURI or MORE mentors?

As long as students are interested in research, we need faculty to be mentors. If you need more motivation than that, I would say that I have been able to train and recruit students into doctoral programs through their participation in FURI and MORE.