December 2008

A Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate Program with Impact

In August the latest class of students eagerly entered the Martin C. Jischke Hall of Biomedical Engineering with an eye on becoming engineers who impact the world of healthcare.

These 70 sophomores, from the more than 1700 first-year engineering students at Purdue, made it into the top ranking of the admission process for the newest school in the College of Engineering. The excitement generated by our carefully designed and innovative B.S. BME Program attracts many of the best young engineering students from across the United States and around the world.

Through demand for our program that is steadily increasing, we are rapidly reaching our targeted program size of 225 sophomore through senior students. This size allows us to continue to focus on strategic metrics such as a low (<10:1) student-to-faculty ratio for effective mentoring, having each student participate in at least one experiential learning experience (e.g. research, industrial, entrepreneurial, and/or global), and a 100% career placement rate.

In this edition of our newsletter, we highlight the design and implementation of this ABET accredited program that is so critical to the mission of the Weldon School to be the premier source of scientific discoveries and of well-educated biomedical engineers, fostering strong academic, industrial, and clinical ties, and achieving significant healthcare impact.

Designing an Innovative Undergraduate Curriculum
At the beginning of this millennium the demand for engineers who could integrate the technical expertise of both biological and engineering sciences was being clearly articulated by leaders in the medical device and healthcare industries.

With the enthusiastic support of the leadership of Purdue University, the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, the Whitaker Foundation, faculty members from key disciplines in the Purdue College of Engineering began a collaborative process to design a program to educate a new type of Purdue engineer to meet the emerging needs of our industrial partners.  The enthusiasm for this program development was supported by a generous gift of $10M from the Weldons, a family of alumni with long-standing medical device industry expertise.

Building on a long history of training engineers through an integrated educational process of applying solid theoretical principles to real-world design-and-build problem-solving, a new biomedical engineering curriculum was charted with a backbone of highly-integrated design laboratory courses.  In these innovative laboratories, students learn to apply critical thinking and design skills in creative ways to solve the rapidly changing problems of healthcare.  By immersing them in the fundamentals of biology and medicine throughout each semester of engineering training, the students develop the practical design skills needed to provide solutions for the next generation of medical needs.  Courses offered jointly by faculty in Biological Sciences and Basic Medical Science provide significant cross-disciplinary learning. An efficient closed-loop assessment strategy, based on measurable performance criteria, was designed as an integrated part of the new curriculum. Each cycle of this process has led to continuous and significant improvements. 

Bets Lillo, Senior Director, Abbott Transition Organization at Abbott asserted: “The BME degree is a preferred degree for our QPDP program, because quality roles are integrative by their nature, and Weldon BMEs have demonstrated the ability to pull together information across both engineering and sciences.”

The ultimate evidence for success of this novel and integrated academic program approach is in the achievements of our students in their professional careers. However, even before graduation of the first class, supporting data for their proficiency was evident.  NSF funding has supported the development of key components of the curriculum.  An NSF-funded STEM program in Quantitative Physiology provides scholarships and a unique, supportive, training community for academically talented undergraduate students with an interest in applying mathematical and computational tools to study physiological problems. Each of our five core design lab courses were received enthusiastically at presentations at national educational meetings with our course manuals distributed to other institutions.  Several faculty members have already received awards for innovation and excellence in teaching including the ASEE award (Prof. Jenna Rickus) and the Marion B. Scott Award (Prof. Pedro Irazoqui).   Recently, the Cook Group, Inc. endowed a named professorship ($1.5M) in honor of founding faculty member, Leslie A. Geddes.

Our first cadre of B.S. BME graduates have had excellent placement in medical companies (Baxter Healthcare, Boston Scientific, GE Healthcare, Roche, etc.)  and top graduate / professional programs (e.g., Harvard MBA, Colorado Law School, Washington University Medical School) and continuing students are receiving excellent reviews as undergraduate interns at both established companies and start-ups (e.g., Abbott, Cook Group, Biomet, Pfizer, SonarMed) and federal programs (e.g. BESIP). 

Steven Charlebois, Manager of Product Discovery at Cook MED Institute,  recently said this about one of our interns:  “It is safe to say that Andrew far exceeded our expectations for the work he was able to perform this summer, and it is commendable that he was able to flex and adapt to the dynamic environment with our group....He is a very detailed and curious individual, and was able to dive into each opportunity we presented him and utilize the resources at his disposal to get the job done.”

Establishing an Integrated Learning Environment for Undergraduate Students
Educating a new type of engineer requires an innovative learning environment, one that integrates state-of-the-art instructional laboratories and highly interactive communal learning spaces.

These spaces are centralized in our 92,000 sq. ft., world-class research and educational facility, the Martin C. Jischke Hall of Biomedical Engineering, designed in partnership with BSA LifeStructures.  Funding for this facility from both public (State of Indiana, $13M) and private (Whitaker Foundation, $5M, and alumni and friends, >$7M) sources reflects our broad base of invested partners.  However, the educational experiences of our Weldon undergraduates also take place in the many additional multifaceted opportunities provided to enhance their global perspectives, knowledge base, and professional development.  

The entire first-level of Jischke Hall is dedicated to undergraduate education.  An analytical cell biology and biomaterials lab -- with a dedicated, 12-station, cell and tissue culture facility and an imaging darkroom with light, fluorescent, and confocal microscope stations -- is fully equipped with research-grade instrumentation.  The bioinstrumentation lab (which houses the recently-donated Texas Instruments circuit design facility) converts into an experimental biotransport laboratory where students can model, design, build and test flow systems for medical application.  The senior design projects laboratory (recently dedicated in honor of National Medal of Technology awardee Prof. Leslie A. Geddes) is a fully-flexible space that allows up to nine teams to develop projects simultaneously. 

A highly-trained instructional support staff -- which includes two doctoral-level instructional coordinators, two staff engineers, several preclinical study staff, as well as a large cadre of graduate teaching assistants -- allows open access to these experiential learning labs. The outstanding quality of our senior design projects in neural engineering recently inspired Texas Instruments to sponsor a Digital Signal Processing design lab with over $50K in new research-grade software and hardware. Our centralized, 24-station, instructional computing lab is surrounded by multiple team-project rooms and open interaction spaces in the three-story atrium.  The central atrium of Jischke Hall links students to the building’s research labs where more than 75% of our undergraduates have participated in faculty research by the time of graduation (78% for class of 2007 and 87% for 2008).  A ‘fast-track’ program aids accelerated students in achieving a research-focused MS BME degree in one additional year.

In addition to encouraging active participation in faculty research, our undergraduate program provides Weldon students with internship experiences with leading companies in the biomedical industry. Students are facilitated in translating these professional experiences into future careers through an integrated entrepreneurship certificate program, coordinated in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, located across the street from Jischke Hall in the unique, interdisciplinary facilities of Purdue’s Discovery Park. Two of our full-time professional staff members (Academic Advisor and Internship Liaison) integrate with our faculty in a dual-level career advising system. Through these programs and mentoring our students are intentionally drawn into the central culture of the WeldonSchool where research, design, and development of medical device technologies regularly translates into real-world application. The results are high career placement rates with over half of our graduates pursuing advanced degrees.

Weldon Undergraduates Change Their World
Even before they leave the Purdue University campus, students of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering are impacting the world around them.

Continuing a Senior-class tradition, students delivered “Weldon Wagons” to the pediatrics unit of ParkviewHospital in nearby Fort Wayne, Indiana, in May 2008.  The wagons, assembled and decorated by the graduating class, are intended to provide an element of fun for children in their experience of the patient environment. This tradition was begun by the inaugural class of WeldonSchool as a way to give back to the state and local community that had provided them so much.  "The intent of having the students construct the Weldon Wagons is to remind them that they are graduating with more than just a degree in biomedical engineering," said George Wodicka, Head of the WeldonSchool. "Through their degree, they have acquired the skills to create or assist in the creation of medical technologies to help heal people and enable them to live better lives.”

Undergraduates in the WeldonSchool are taking advantage of many additional opportunities to improve their world outside the classroom.  The School currently hosts three EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) teams which have partnerships with medical institutions in the state.  From their first semester at Purdue, BME students begin to apply their technical knowledge and emerging design skills to solving real problems. So far, the students have provided “toys” with specialized instrumentation for physical therapists to use to measure the muscle strength and reaction time of pediatric patients, designed a safe transportation carrier for infant respirator systems, and created a customizable computer screen interface that allows children with limited movement ability and speech problems to communicate.   The newest EPICS team in the WeldonSchool is designing interactive scale models to educate middle and high school students about bio-inspired nano-manufacturing concepts.

Weldon students are taking their creative design skills outside the state of IndianaOne team of students, led by faculty member Jenna Rickus, placed highly in the MIT-sponsored International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition. Each year approximately 400 students from top universities demonstrate their design skills in synthetic biology during the event. Weldon students participate as leaders and international interns in the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) program as well as a wide-range of study abroad exchange programs.  They also run a chapter of Engineering World Health, participate in medical missions, and in the past year more than a dozen traveled to national and international conferences to present research results. These innovative endeavors by Weldon undergraduate students are not surprising given the culture of interdisciplinary design, innovation, and entrepreneurship in which they are immersed. 

As always, we welcome you to campus to celebrate the close of a decorated decade in our history and to become a part of the next decade as we continue to advance both higher education and the medical device field. If you are interested in learning more about the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, or have stories you would like to share, please contact Julia Colby, our Manager of Development Operations, at or at 765-496-3568. We would like to learn about you, answer your questions, and schedule a visit.