Honoring A Mentor - Undergraduate research award funds unique opportunity

Author: written by David Williams
Honoring A Mentor
It is said there is no substitute for experience, and practical experience is exactly what brothers Stephen (right) and David Grubbs seek to provide undergraduate students in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering through the David S. Grubbs Undergraduate Research Award.

Both view the award as a way to honor their own student experiences working with Leslie A. Geddes, a Purdue distinguished professor of biomedical engineering who died in 2009, at age 88, and left an indelible impression on their lives.

In the fall of 1974, Stephen was entering his senior year in the School of Chemical Engineering, having already been accepted into Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Medical College with plans to focus on a career in medicine. With graduation in sight and medical school on the horizon, he found himself with some free time and approached his academic advisor about the possibility of serving the school in some capacity.

“I was told about a biomedical engineering instructor named Les Geddes whose office was located in the basement of the Electrical Engineering Building,” recalled Stephen, who today is a practicing medical oncologist with a national reputation for excellence in his field. “I spent my entire senior year and the summer following graduation working with Dr. Geddes on a paper about defibrillator electrodes.

“The roots of my oncology work started with Dr. Geddes. There are people in your career you meet along the way who teach you how to think, how to interpret and how to explore, and Dr. Geddes certainly did those things for me.”

Stephen enjoyed working with Geddes so much that he introduced his mentor to his younger brother, David, a high school senior at the time visiting his older brother on spring break.

That meeting left a lasting impression on David, who reconnected with Geddes several years later.

“One of the interesting things about Dr. Geddes is that he never recruited students — you had to come to him,” David says. “While working toward my master’s degree in mechanical engineering, I worked with him on developing a catheter that measured the pattern of blood flow through the heart.”

Like his brother before him, David chose to continue his education at Thomas Jefferson Medical College.

Now well-established in the field of medicine as a cardiologist in Newark, Del., David
established the David S. Grubbs Undergraduate Research Award in 1997 in hopes of inspiring undergraduate students to explore possible career choices in biomedical engineering.

“I saw this as an opportunity to plant seeds,” David says. “I saw this as a great way to
expose students to what’s available to them from a career standpoint at a very early stage in their academic careers.

“Classes in calculus and chemistry, for example, arm you with very basic tools, but an experience like this gives students a better understanding of exactly what these tools can build. Having been able to spend a summer early in my career working on campus made me realize what a great opportunity this could be. Being exposed to Dr. Geddes was really a life-changing experience for me. What I learned at Purdue, I use every day.”