First Student Remembers The Start of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue

It began almost on a whim, but ended with life lessons that continue to impact a life and career. For Dr. Stephen Grubbs, MD, September of 1974 changed his life as the co-op chemical engineering student returned to campus to finish one phase of his education, and to prepare for his medical education at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia. While looking for a research project to fill some time, he was directed to a new group "that was supposed to be doing something with biomedical engineering" that had just set up in the basement of the electrical engineering building.

"So, I went across the mall, found their offices in the basement of the electrical engineering building, and introduced myself to the secretary who said, well, you know, Dr. Geddes might have something to do for you. So she knocked on his door, and that's how it all started," he said.

That "it" was a pivotal time in many ways. As the first undergraduate student of Dr. Les Geddes, Grubbs was given one-on-one instruction and then launched into research on electrical defibrillation of the heart. That research resulted in a publication in the American Heart Journal, which meant that Grubbs started medical school with a major publication already underway.

"I learned things there that apply to this day as a physician," he says, "So it was just a wonderful experience."

Today, Dr. Grubbs, recipient of the 2007 Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) Community Clinical Scientist Award, is a practicing oncologist and hematologist in Delaware with a practice that sees probably more than half of the cancer cases in the state. He also continues to do research, performing clinical research for the National Cancer Institute, and are considered a model site for bringing new treatments to the community. Grubbs notes that work on prevention and treatment are paying off for the state, with Delaware having one of the fastest dropping cancer death rates in the nation.

He credits his time with Dr. Geddes for helping shape his outlook, describing him as "A man who was bent on getting the job done and working hard, and I think that work ethic and that inquisitiveness is probably the thing I admired the most and have tired to emulate in my years. Always have that inquisitiveness and continue to use your mind, that's the attributes I saw that I tried to incorporate in my years as a physician."

As for the Weldon School and the new biomedical engineering building, "I saw it in the beginning, and I just asked Dr. Geddes did you ever imagine this would all happen? He just was shaking his head saying 'I'm not sure I ever envisioned this.' But what a tremendous facility, what a tremendous program, lots of students that are active and bright... Who would have ever imagined this would have come to this..."

The complete interview, including a tribute to Dr. Geddes and the story of how he got his brother involved in working with Dr. Geddes as well, is available as a podcast on the Weldon Blog.