U-M BME Student Receives UMTRI’s Patricia F. Waller Scholarship

January 25, 2024


Congratulations to BME undergrad student Brennen McManus on receiving the 2024 Patricia F. Waller Scholarship, which is sponsored by the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). McManus was recognized for his proposed project, “Exploring Wheelchair Users’ Perception of WC19 Wheelchairs.”

McManus explained that WC19 wheelchairs have specifically met voluntary testing standards to ensure they are safe for users to transport from one location to another in motor vehicles. “The idea for the proposed project came from a past study that I was fortunate enough to do at UMTRI, where I measured the posture of people in wheelchairs to see how seat belts might fit differently, different ways air bags might interact with them upon deployment, and other ergonomic and safety issues,” McManus said.

McManus added that he was excited about receiving the scholarship, and that he enjoys the research opportunities he has found at UMTRI. “The big thing I was really looking for was doing something where I felt like I could be making an immediate impact in the lives of others,” McManus said. “As you know, the University of Michigan has a lot of opportunities available, but this one really stood out to me as something that would provide engineering experience while also allowing me to do work that would benefit others.” McManus’ long-term goal is to attend medical school. “This has the added benefit of aligning with my career goals.”

UMTRI Research Scientist and DEI Lead Kathy Klinich is McManus’ supervisor. “Brennen has been a great asset to our team since starting work as a research assistant last May,” Klinich said. “One of our current projects involves developing modeling tools to allow engineers to design safer wheelchair seating stations. To support this work, we have been collecting 3D geometry of people in their wheelchairs at different locations. Brennen has helped update our remote scanning methods, collected data on volunteers, and developed methods for processing the data. He was able to write a short communication, ‘Seated Posture of Occupants in Wheelchairs,’ that he presented at a conference this fall.”

Klinich said that the Patricia F. Waller Scholarship will provide McManus with real-world opportunities as a researcher. “One of the benefits of experiential learning is that you get to learn about less technical things that engineers need to deal with, like subject payment forms, getting computers to cooperate with software, and how to find volunteers for your study,” Klinich said. “Brennen’s scholarship project will give him an opportunity to learn about survey development and analysis, as well as obtaining approval from institutional review boards. We think the results of Brennen’s project will be useful to support future proposals addressing equitable travel opportunities for wheelchair users,” Klinich added.

“BME is very proud of Brennen’s remarkable achievement,” said Mary-Ann Mycek, the William and Valerie Hall Department Chair of Biomedical Engineering and Professor, Biomedical Engineering. “His collaborative research with UMTRI is an example of the diverse research opportunities across campus for our BME students.” 

The Patricia F. Waller Scholarship was established to honor Dr. Patricia Waller, who had a distinguished career as a leading research scientist and advocate for policy reform in the area of transportation safety and injury control. In 1989, she was appointed director of the Transportation Research Institute at U-M, where she also held academic appointments in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health and the Department of Psychology. Dr. Waller retired from U-M in 1999, but continued to be actively engaged in research projects around the world, authoring publications until shortly before her death on August 15, 2003.

The scholarship bearing her name is intended to benefit U-M graduate students and senior undergraduate students who elect a thesis, dissertation, or special project that addresses the human aspect of transportation policy or practice. Students from all U-M departments and schools who are interested in conducting research highlighting transportation equity, mobility, or safety with a focus on improving transportation for people may apply.

“UMTRI is honored to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Patricia F. Waller by awarding two scholarships each year to students interested in conducting research on transportation equity, mobility, or safety with a focus on improving transportation for people” said David W Eby, Research Professor and Chair of the Patricia F. Waller Scholarship Committee. “Brennen’s project was selected from among several noteworthy applications.”