New major to explore preserving human life

A bioengineering major will be introduced this fall.

The College of Engineering will introduce a Bachelor of Science degree in bioengineering in a move to lure students into one of the fastest growing occupations in the country.

Beginning Fall 2013, the new undergraduate degree will allow students to explore the involvement of technology in preserving human life, from artificial organs to drug-delivery systems.

“This degree will provide students with opportunities for employment and graduate school,” Keyanoush Sadeghipour, dean of the College of Engineering, said. “It is an ideal discipline toward professional fields such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and so forth.”

Because of the aging population and the evolution of technology, employment of biomedical engineers is expected to grow by 62 percent between 2010 and 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Omar Fisher, assistant professor of bioengineering, said the new curriculum would offer flexibility for students to choose certain tracks like pre-medicine or biomechanics. The Board of Trustees approved the curriculum on March 5.

“The challenge of teaching these courses in the future will be developing the material in a way that is novel and interactive,” Fisher said. “Once we get through a couple of years with the curriculum we propose, we’ll be in a better position to tweak it further.”

A bigger challenge will be to provide adequate facilities to house the new program given the high level of interest expressed by prospective students.

“We are enormously under pressure in regards to space for our current programs, let alone a new program coming board,” Sadeghipour said. “Having said that, the potential for growth is enormous.”

Two floors within the engineering building were renovated with the purpose of housing the department and creating the teaching and research labs necessary for the new degree. The renovation came after the architecture department vacated its space and relocated to its new building in 2010.

Two large teaching labs and several brand new research labs were created. The concept implemented in the college is an open lab policy where several labs can be offered under one roof and only a few feet away from the faculty offices.

Despite the additional space and new facilities, the department is uncertain whether transfer students will be admitted to the program next fall.

Sadeghipour said the popularity of the discipline will force the department to add more teaching labs within the next few years in order to sustain enrollment.

Silvia Lopez, a sophomore undergraduate research assistant within the department, said she hopes the new program will incorporate several engineering fields into one.

“I am mostly interested in learning how to apply the knowledge in electrical engineering to fields such as biology and medicine,” she said. “I want to focus on something completely different.”

At the graduate level, the department has been focusing more on research and on providing students flexibility to choose the courses that fit their interests.

For Huaitzung Cheng, a second-year bioengineering graduate student, the department’s development depends on its research output.

“There is not a lot of faculty right now, and you can expect them to spend much of their time on just the courses,” Cheng said. “As new researchers, they need to be able to get the funding in to do the research.”

The department will need to focus more on the curriculum down the road in order to have good researchers, Cheng said.

Six new instructors will be hired within the next few years as the program moves forward.

“We need to be careful about how we take our next step,” Sadeghipour said. “In the future years, we are looking at further expanding our facilities.”

Laura Ordonez can be reached at 

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