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Preparing Freshmen And Sophomores For Biomedical Engineering: The Experience At Northwestern University

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.455.1 - 3.455.4

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John B. Troy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1309

Preparing Freshmen and Sophomores for Biomedical Engineering: The Experience at Northwestern University John B. Troy Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

At Northwestern we believe that we are pioneers in the field of undergraduate education for biomedical engineers. Consequently, we are forever looking for ways to improve what we are doing in both small and large ways. In this paper I intend to describe some of the initiatives we have taken and are taking to open the field of biomedical engineering to underclassmen at Northwestern. I hope that our experience will be useful to colleagues at other institutions. Before I get into the details, however, I feel that I should provide some background about engineering undergraduates and the Biomedical Engineering Department at Northwestern, since what is possible for us may be impractical elsewhere.

Engineering students at Northwestern come from the top five percent of high school students in the U.S., as measured by SAT scores and class rankings. They are highly motivated and have high expectations, anticipating that they will assume leadership roles in their careers and willing to work hard to accomplish this objective. For this reason, among others, we believe that it would be inappropriate to straight-jacket our students with an overly rigid curriculum and we allow them bounded latitude in course selection. We want our students to reach their full potential and not to be limited by a rigid program designed to attain some minimal set of expectations one might have for a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering. A number of our students double-major, sometimes with another engineering discipline, but sometimes also with undergraduate programs of Northwestern’s College of Arts and Sciences. Occasionally, a student will triple-major. Some of the students who do not double- or triple-major, minor in a discipline from the College of Arts and Sciences. A large fraction of our students gain high proficiency in a foreign language. Some students manage to complete the requirements for both their B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biomedical Engineering in four years, or a little more. Many have exacting extracurricular commitments. Hence, we have a very able student body with which to work, but also one which is very busy.

Among the minimal requirements to graduate with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern, a student must obtain a strong grounding in mathematics, basic science and engineering and have taken a number of fundamental core courses in biomedical engineering. Students are also required to concentrate a substantial fraction (~20%) of their coursework in one of a number of sub-specialities of biomedical engineering (e.g., biomechanics, biotechnology, instrumentation). In addition to allowing students some freedom of choice, this approach also ensures that the students gain depth in one area, which we believe to be an essential educational objective.

At Northwestern engineering freshmen arrive with undeclared majors. They do not make a preliminary selection of major until the Spring Quarter of the freshman year. Moreover, students can change relatively painlessly between engineering departments through the end of their sophomore year. Biomedical engineering has become a great attraction to today’s bright high school graduates with an interest in engineering. It has been the most popular declared interest of incoming engineering freshmen at Northwestern for the past several years. Unfortunately,

Troy, J. B. (1998, June), Preparing Freshmen And Sophomores For Biomedical Engineering: The Experience At Northwestern University Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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