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Weldon BME Undergraduates Share Their Passion for Engineering

Hawthorne students participate in BME activity
Hawthorne students attempt to play cornhole while wearing goggles that skew their vision.
Purdue and Hawthorne students
Purdue student Zack Flohr (right) helps Hawthorne students perform "laprascopic surgery" using a claw tool with a camera and a computer.
BME Undergraduates at Hawthorne Elementary School
Members of the BME Honor Society AEMB Pause Outside Hawthorne Elementary School
Hawthorne students and Purdue BME student
Weldon BME student James Pastrnak, right. leads a sensory activity that reveals students can't taste without smell.
Five members of Alpha Eta Mu Beta, an honor society for Purdue University biomedical engineering students, visited Elkhart recently to share their passion for engineering and science with Hawthorne Elementary School sixth graders.

The students said the goal of their outreach program is to teach younger students about biomedical engineering and get them interested in a possible career in the biomedical engineering field.

The trip to Elkhart, the group's first outreach effort, came about as a result of Hawthorne's annual trip to a Purdue football game in the fall. Hawthorne science teacher Joni Peak, who has a son enrolled in Purdue's biomedical engineering program, struck up a conversation with a Purdue professor and the collaboration was born.

Not only did the Purdue students bring along a variety of engaging engineering experiments for the Hawthorne students, they also brought along lunch for the entire sixth grade.

It took only a few minutes of conversation with the Purdue students to discover their genuine passion for biomedical engineering. Three of the students intend to become medical doctors while the other two plan work in industry, most likely inventing medical equipment or replacement limbs.

"I didn't even know what biomedical engineering was until my senior year of high school," said senior Namita Agrwal. "I want young students to become aware of the different options they have for their future."

"We want to show them what biomedical engineering is all about," added James Pastrnak. “We want them to see that science can be fun and that it also relates to their everyday life."

The Purdue students led three separate biomedical engineering sessions, one on tissue engineering, one on laprascopic surgery, and the third on sensory perception. The hands-on activities gave the sixth graders a new awareness of the benefits of biomedical engineering. But the younger students were just as intrigued by the personal experiences the Purdue students shared. Several of them have been working on a research project on the long-term effects of athletes who suffer concussions and what can be done, in terms of improved sports equipment, to prevent concussions from occurring. The Purdue students' research project was featured in a November edition of the magazine Sports Illustrated.

The Hawthorne students were amazed the college students are working on these real-life engineering applications, including the design of robotic limbs to replace amputated arms and legs.

Peak said the Hawthorne sixth graders really enjoyed the day and appreciated the college students' willingness to share their love of engineering and science. "I feel sometimes an older student can make a bigger impact on a younger student, they relate to each other in a different way than teacher/student," Peak noted. "We are grateful that Purdue outreached to us. 

"It helped our students to think outside the box and consider a variety of professions in the science field," Peak continued. "It gave some real hands on opportunities for all students. We look forward to having Purdue students back again next year."