Biomedical engineering degree offers students new opportunities

Melinda Rogers

For the first time in University history, students interested in biomedical engineering have the opportunity to earn an undergraduate degree in the field.
The new degree program offered this fall by the Department of Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering gives University undergraduate students an opportunity to focus on the study of biomedical engineering — something previously limited to University graduate students.
“Biomedical engineering is a very distinct field and before students had to go to graduate school to earn a degree in it,” said David Odde, director of biomedical engineering undergraduate studies.
“There has been a lot of student interest in the program, which has been a big driver in getting it off the ground,” Odde said.
After more than two years of curriculum proposals, the Board of Regents approved the program last fall and undergraduate courses are currently being offered at the University.
“We want to create a curriculum that will educate and train a student in a manner that is different than the traditional engineering principals,” said Robert Tranquillo, department head of biomedical engineering.
The undergraduate curriculum in biomedical engineering will consist of a variety of courses including mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, biology and physiology as well as a number of core courses in biomedical engineering.
“The new courses we are offering cut across what we consider the core of biomedical engineering,” Odde said.
The new program will also host a few unique features, including a chance for students to work with a mentor who is active in the biomedical work force, and an opportunity for students to participate in a variety of instructional labs.
“Students will be broadly trained with many instructional lab courses,” Tranquillo said. “However, during a student’s senior year they will have the chance to choose from electives that will give them a chance to gain a custom specialty in biomedical engineering.”
Along with the addition of the undergraduate program, the department is hopeful that the future of biomedical engineering within the University will continue to blossom.
The Whitaker Foundation, a major biomedical grant foundation, has proposed a multi-million dollar plan to help the University enhance its education and research programs. Initiatives in the proposal would allow more students to graduate from the undergraduate program and give the department a chance to increase its staff by adding two to three new faculty members.
“The proposal would allow us to increase the scope and size of the entire department and would create even more depth to existing programs that are already strong — for example, our cardiovascular engineering and neural engineering programs,” Tranquillo said.
“Right now we have the ability to graduate 50 people from the undergraduate program, and with the proposal we would be able to increase that number to 100 people,” he added.
The department will be notified in November if the Whitaker proposal will go into effect. Until then, the department remains optimistic about the innovations the University is making in the biomedical engineering field, and the new opportunities for undergraduate students.
“There are a number of students interested in applying technology to health. Biomedical engineering is a great way to do this,” Odde said. “I think students will find it a very rewarding area to work in.”