Liesl Baum, the associate director for strategic initiatives and educational research in Virginia Tech’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Undergraduate Academic Affairs, has been named the chair of the Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board (IRB), effective Sept. 1, 2021. 

“We recognize that without faculty and staff who volunteer their time to serve on Virginia Tech’s Institutional Review Board, it would be difficult to advance and support the university’s research enterprise,” said Dan Sui, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. “The service that the board provides is an integral part of growing Virginia Tech’s scientific research involving human participants. We greatly appreciate Liesl’s commitment to serving in this crucial role.” 

The Human Research Protections Program (HRPP) at Virginia Tech, housed in the Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance in the Office of Research and Innovation, is designed to support researchers in meeting their ethical and regulatory responsibilities to human research participants. 

Federal regulations require that all research involving human participants undergo review by a board of scientific and faculty peers, called an Institutional Review Board, and is supported by the Human Research Protections Program.

Suzie Lee, project director at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, has served in the role for the last four years and is stepping down in advance of her upcoming retirement. During her tenure as chair, the board’s office transitioned into a full-service Human Subject Research Protection Program. Lee led implementation of the changes to federal requirements and worked to establish a relationship with an external commercial IRB to aid with a backlog of requests in 2017.

“We greatly appreciate Suzie’s leadership and dedication over the last several years in helping to ensure the ethical conduct of research that involves human participants and establishing new standards and procedures in alignment with national regulations,” said Lisa M. Lee, associate vice president for scholarly integrity and research compliance.

A member of the Virginia Tech professional community since 2008, Baum has worked closely with faculty to advance and enrich the educational experience for students, including scholarship of teaching and learning; served as the departmental reviewer for the center and other departments, advising faculty and students on their IRB submissions; and analyzed classroom and educational activities to determine if they meet the regulatory definition of research.

In March 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the board handled many urgent requests for review of COVID-19 related research. During that time, Baum became involved with the board and was appointed as an alternate member of the university’s emergency board that was established to provide urgent review and approval for human subjects research in emergency situations. 

In her new role as chair, Baum will work closely with the members of the board and the Human Subject Research Protection Program to carry out the mission to protect the rights and welfare of individuals who volunteer to participate in human subjects research.

Federal law requires that institutional review boards include scientists from diverse disciplines, a member from a non-science discipline, such as a lawyer, historian, philosopher, or member of the clergy, and a member who is unaffiliated with the university.

Karen Roberto, University Distinguished Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the executive director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, has served as the vice-chair of the board for the last two years and will continue to serve in this role. Laura Welfare, associate professor in the School of Education, also in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, joined Roberto as co-vice chair, effective Sept. 1.

At the highest level, the IRB is designed to protect research participants.  As such, it is required to review proposed research before it is implemented to ensure that it is scientifically valid, risks to participants are minimized to the extent possible, and that risks are reasonable relative to the expected benefits of the research.  

Given the potential risks and benefits, the board ensures that potential participants are informed of the possible risks, aware of key study information, and freely consent to participate. In addition, the board assesses whether the selection of subjects is appropriate to ensure that the burdens and benefits of research are equitably distributed.    


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