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Developing a Small-footprint Bioengineering Program

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

BME Course and Curriculum Development

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.417.1 - 25.417.10



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Paper Authors


Alisha L. Sarang-Sieminski Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Alisha Sarang-Sieminski is an Assistant Professor of bioengineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Her research interests include how cells respond to and influence chemical and mechanical aspects of their surroundings and how people respond to and influence the schemas and power dynamics
in their surroundings.

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Debbie Chachra Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Debbie Chachra is an Associate Professor of materials science at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Her engineering education research currently focuses on self-efficacy in first-year, project-based design courses. She has also studied and published on other aspects of the student experience, including studies of persistence and migration (why students stay in engineering or choose to leave), as well as differences in the engineering experience between male and female students. In 2010, she received an NSF CAREER Award in support of her research on engineering education.

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Developing a Small Footprint Bioengineering ProgramThe field of bioengineering (BioE) is rapidly changing and expanding to include not only moretraditional BioE applications (e.g. prosthetics, imaging) but also more recent sub-fields andtechnologies (e.g. those enabled by tissue engineering and microfluidics). This rapid change,coupled with the roots of BioE in many different areas of biological sciences and engineering,presents a unique challenge to those developing academic programs, as they need to both selectrelevant content and strike a balance between depth and breadth. However, one major trend inBioE is the rise of biologically-focused applications in addition to, or replacing, ones that aremore device-focused.As architects of the BioE program at the undergraduate-only Franklin W. Olin College ofEngineering, which enrolled its first class in 2003, we faced a significant additional challenge ofour small size (~300 students, ~35 full time faculty, and ~1.5 dedicated BioE faculty). Inconsultation with academic and industrial leaders in the field, our approach was to create aflexible BioE program that aims to provide students with a strong grounding in both biology andengineering. In particular, this program was designed to complement, not reduplicate, ourexisting offerings in mechanical and electrical/computer engineering, while leveraging Olin’sbroad-based foundation in engineering fundamentals. We chose to specialize in the area ofbiologically-focused BioE, specifically on cell-biomaterial interactions and on the role of thecellular microenvironment, as these represent a rapidly growing area of BioE exploration and arein line with faculty expertise at Olin College. Emphasizing these areas allows us to providestudents with both theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences, through coursework andinvolvement in experimental research.Data from our first six graduating classes suggests that this is a valuable approach.Approximately 11% of Olin’s 430 graduates received an Engineering degree with a biology-oriented concentration. Further, of these 49 students, 29% have gone to graduate school, 12%have gone to medical school, 31% have found positions in BioE companies, and the remaining29% have pursued other options. The students who have enrolled in graduate school have joinedexcellent research labs in top BioE programs and include 5 NSF Graduate Research Fellowshiprecipients and one Fulbright Scholar. Student feedback indicates that an undergraduate educationfocusing on biology and engineering problem-solving has prepared them well for their currentendeavors. We are confident that this approach results in graduates who are well-prepared tocreate the future of bioengineering.

Sarang-Sieminski, A. L., & Chachra, D. (2012, June), Developing a Small-footprint Bioengineering Program Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21175

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