Infusion device demonstration

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LEWISBURG, Pa. - Commencement marks a milestone for Bucknell: the College of Engineering will graduate its first class of biomedical engineering majors.

The seven women and six men will leave Bucknell armed with an extremely marketable degree. Only about 3,000 students graduate from biomedical engineering programs in the United States each year.

These 13 seniors played a key role in establishing Bucknell’s program, said Professor Dan Cavanagh, program director. “We view our students as partners, as the courses they took were new to everyone, including the faculty,” he said. “They have continually provided us with extremely valuable constructive feedback along the way that has allowed us to continually enhance the program.”

Shaping the major
That created a unique opportunity for the first “BME” majors, according to Nick Sotak ‘07.  “My classmates and I have had an enormous impact on the direction of the curriculum,” he said. “From simple tasks like writing course evaluations to hiring new faculty members, we have been able to shape the major for future students in a very real and meaningful way. Seeing the success of the program so far makes me proud to have been part of its beginning.”

Interest in the major, which currently enrolls a total of 59 students, has increased by 20 to 30 percent annually since its inception in fall 2003, mostly through word of mouth.

Biomedical engineering integrates physiology and biology with the traditional engineering disciplines. Bucknell’s academic program currently focuses on biotransport, which includes drug delivery, blood flow, and medical devices. Like other BME programs across the United States, it attracts extremely well-qualified students: currently, more than 200 talented high school seniors apply for 15 spots in Bucknell’s program, which is purposely limited in size. With three full-time faculty members (and a tentative fourth, starting this fall), plus two partial appointments from mechanical and chemical engineering, the student-teacher ratio offers a level of learning opportunity not found at most undergraduate biomedical engineering programs. 

Big benefits in a small program
“Being part of a small, new program gave us lots of interaction with the professors,” said Kristen Sydlowski ’07. “I could not have imagined my undergraduate career being any better.”

“We’re developing new teaching methods that take advantage of our program’s small size, and the new instructional facilities in the Breakiron Engineering Building,” Cavanagh said. For example, biomedical engineering students enjoy integrated lecture-and-lab sessions that provide immediate, hands-on reinforcement of technical concepts presented in classroom instruction.

Bucknell’s intimate BME program has other benefits, too, he said. “Because biomedical engineering is so broad, curricula at most universities focus on specific areas of BME that relate to the research strengths of those institutions. As our primary mission is to provide a distinctive undergraduate educational opportunity, we are able concentrate on providing a strong fundamental biomedical engineering education that prepares students for a wide range of future opportunities.  Our curriculum is not driven by our research.  It is driven by what we believe is best for our students.”

Diverse career options
For their year-long capstone projects, the seniors split up into five different teams and worked with external biomedical experts at the Geisinger Medical Center and the Hershey Medical Center to address real-world problems. The primary educational goal of the projects is to provide the students with a challenging, open-ended, biomedically relevant design opportunity similar to what they might experience in their careers.  Their prototyped solutions may well lead to two or three patents, which reinforce the quality of the Bucknell experience, the hard work of the students, and the potential for student success in the future. 

The seniors shared their design projects at the first annual Biomedical Engineering Senior Design Exposition on May 1.

The diversity of the graduates’ plans reflects the diversity of opportunities for biomedical engineering majors - from consulting to a variety of graduate programs. Sotak will study dentistry at Tufts University. Kristen Sydlowski ’07 will pursue a degree in medical physics at Georgia Tech University, with a goal of designing treatment plans for cancer patients.

Prepared for challenges
Both said that Bucknell’s biomedical engineering program, with its emphasis on problem-solving, group projects, and critical thinking, has prepared them well for the challenges ahead.

Cavanagh agreed. “Our students have an adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit, and that will benefit them throughout their careers.”

Posted May 2, 2007