Dr. April Bleske-Rechek to receive national award for research mentoring

| Denise Olson

The national Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) has announced that its division of psychology will be awarding their annual Mid-Career Mentoring Award to Dr. April Bleske-Rechek, UW-Eau Claire professor of psychology and recipient of the 2016 Excellence in Mentoring, Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Award at UW-Eau Claire.

The award will be formally presented at the CUR Biennial Conference at Purdue University next June where Bleske-Rechek will give a presentation of her ideas about assessing and rewarding effective mentoring of undergraduate scholars.  

In her 16 years at UW-Eau Claire, Bleske-Rechek has acquired funding every year to support undergraduate researchers, much of which has been acquired through internal grant programs that support student-faculty collaborative research.

Some of the evidence that demonstrates Blekse-Rechek’s prolific and dedicated mentoring are the following: 

  • Bleske-Rechek has formally mentored more than 100 students, including ethnically diverse students and nine McNair scholars.
  • She has co-authored one or more scholarly publications with 36 of the 99 research students who are now alumni.
  • Nearly all student researchers presented at UW-Eau Claire's annual research celebration, CERCA.
  • 75 of past research students have been co-authors on national conference presentations.
  • Several research students have won systemwide research awards.
  • 42 alumni from her lab are currently pursuing or have pursued an advanced degree; they are now neuroscientists, medical researchers, psychology professors, pediatricians, optometrists, lawyers, social workers, data scientists, school counselors, education specialists and school psychologists.

In addition to the direct research mentoring, Bleske-Rechek has done much to enhance undergraduate collaborative student-faculty research, not just at UW-Eau Claire, but systemwide. She has co-hosted faculty workshops devoted to mentoring and incorporating research into teaching; she has served on systemwide initiatives to institutionalize undergraduate research; and she has served on a committee to define mentoring at UW-Eau Claire and launch a faculty mentoring award, which she received in 2016.

When reflecting on her tremendous success as a faculty mentor, Bleske-Rechek credits both her teaching and scholarship, and her goals for each.

“I have clear goals as a mentor to my student researchers, and over the years I have developed a basic framework for successfully pursuing those goals,” she said. “One of my goals is to build students’ skills as scientists. To that end, students have ownership over all steps of the research process.”

Bleske-Rechek shares an anecdote that demonstrates her success toward this goal quite well.

“I remember walking into the lab one day last year to find a weekly plan laid out on the chalkboard for not just one, but two, of my research groups,” she said. “The student leaders of those projects were both second-year researchers, and with their experience and knowledge came student-initiated tasks and timelines. They knew I would support them, and they knew that I would help them with the tasks required to meet our new timelines. I run a student-centered lab, but I am far from hands off.”

Among her other main goals as a research mentor, Bleske-Rechek cites development of research skills like writing and presentation skills, building students’ knowledge of human behavior and building students’ confidence as up-and-coming scientists.

“My students accomplish a lot in our lab, and they know it,” Blekse-Rechek said. “I intentionally share my stories and mistakes; and I ask their advice, particularly about how to make the research experience more rewarding for them. But more importantly, I have realized that genuine and well-deserved compliments mean a lot, so I thank my students for taking initiative. I bring cookies when they come in at 7 a.m. for reading group. I brag about them in front of other faculty. I apply for grant money so they can spend more time in the lab. I nominate them for awards. I also tell them how much I admire their individual talents, and those talents are plentiful.”

It's easy to see in the comments of her research students that the admiration and appreciation are mutual.

Senior psychology major Rian Drexler of Baraboo credits his work with Bleske-Rechek with giving him the focus and confidence to pursue the next phase of his life after graduation.

“It is difficult to summarize the impact Dr. Bleske-Rechek has had on my undergraduate academic career,” Drexler said. “She is well balanced in her ability to challenge students intellectually, while simultaneously helping them successfully navigate their goals. I have been able to be a key collaborator in the idealization, implementation and analysis of various research projects and present research findings to a broader academic community. Through her guidance, support and mentorship, I feel confident in my ability to pursue knowledge effectively and passionately as I transition to my post-undergraduate endeavors, which include plans to obtain my doctoral degree in psychology.”  

Even those students new to Bleske-Rechek’s lab and research projects can immediately see the impact that the experiences will have on their Blugold journeys.

Parker Lay, a freshman psychology major from Forest Lake, Minnesota, can foresee the benefits and learning opportunities just this one semester into the lab collaborations.

“As a first-year student I can already say that Dr. Bleske-Rechek has played an exponentially valuable role in supporting me during the transition to college,” Lay said. “Through each new step of the research process I have felt that she is going to help me get to where I need to be. She encourages critical thinking in an environment where learning happens best — in the trial-and-error context of the research lab.”

Bleske-Rechek’s projects have been supported by various research grants, including significant funding available through the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Dr. Karen Havholm is the assistant vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs and director of the Center of Excellence for Faculty and Undergraduate Research Collaboration at UW-Eau Claire. She nominated Blekse-Rechek for this Mid-Career Mentoring Award from CUR, and is very pleased to see the award going to such a deserving recipient.

“April Bleske-Rechek is a creative, prolific mentor who scaffolds student experiences, encouraging and supporting them to a high level of autonomy. In addition, she contributed to developing a campus Description of Effective Mentoring and was instrumental in development of the Excellence in Mentoring awards criteria and process. Recognition by the CUR psychology division is a strong national-level endorsement of April’s skill and dedication as a mentor.  Nevertheless, knowing April, she will no doubt continue to work at honing her mentoring skills,” Havholm said.

For more information about Dr. Bleske-Rechek and her work, see the "Blugold Spotlight" video from 2018.

For more information about undergraduate research at UW-Eau Claire, see the websites for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs  and CERCA, the Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity