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What is Biomedical Engineering? Insights from Qualitative Analysis of Definitions Written by Undergraduate Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Big Picture Questions in BME

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Nicole L. Ramo University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Nicole earned a B.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from Kettering University (Flint, MI, USA) in 2012. The experiential learning program at Kettering allowed Nicole to work as a research assistant at Henry Ford Hospital’s Bone and Joint Center (Detroit, MI, USA) for 2.5 years where she developed a love of research. Nicole went on to earn her PhD in bioengineering from Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO, USA) in 2018. There she gained experience working as a graduate teaching assistant for computer aided engineering, biomedical engineering capstone design, and biomedical engineering introductory classes. She served as a Graduate Teaching Fellow for the College of Engineering during the 2016/2017 academic year. Nicole is currently a instructional post-doctoral fellow in the Transforming Engineering Education Laboratory within the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. Her engineering education interests include collaborative active learning, assessment methods and accreditation, and curriculum design.

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Aileen Huang-Saad University of Michigan

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Aileen is faculty in Engineering Education and Biomedical Engineering. Previously, Aileen was the Associate Director for Academics in the Center for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for building the Program in Entrepreneurship for UM undergraduates, co-developing the masters level entrepreneurship program, and launching the biomedical engineering graduate design program. Aileen has received a number of awards for her teaching, including the Thomas M. Sawyer, Jr. Teaching Award, the UM ASEE Outstanding Professor Award and the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award. Prior to joining the University of Michigan faculty, she worked in the private sector gaining experience in biotech, defense, and medical device testing at large companies and start-ups. Aileen’s current research areas include entrepreneurship engineering education, impact and engaged learning. Aileen has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, a Doctorate of Philosophy from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Aileen is also a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Beta Sigma Gamma.

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Barry Belmont University of Michigan

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Discussions regarding the identity of Biomedical Engineering (BME) have been on-going since its inception as a profession over 50 years ago. Recently, these conversations have taken on increased importance in response to calls for improving BME undergraduate education, especially for students interested in industry work after graduation. At last year’s ASEE Annual Conference, Biomedical Engineering Division programming concluded with a discussion of how the lack of a universal BME identity contributes to uncertainty on the part of potential employers. The development of a coherent field identity is dependent on a shared understanding of the field by the major stakeholders, namely students, academic departments, accreditation bodies, national governing organizations, and industry partners / potential employers. Unfortunately, the perspectives of the foremost of these stakeholders have largely been ignored in conversations of cultivating a BME identity as no previous study has examined how undergraduate students define BME. Therefore, to contribute another important voice to these on-going conversations, this paper presents a qualitative analysis of definitions of BME written by 115 undergraduate students at a large R1 public university in the Midwest. In vivo qualitative coding and categorization revealed five main features of these definitions exemplified by “impact”, “design”, “apply/use”, “understand/combination”, and “undefined” labels. Comparison of pre-BME students (those who had not previously completed a core BME course) and within-BME students (those who had successfully completed at least one core BME course) showed a transition from an impact-focused definition of BME to a more application-focused definition. Within-BME students were also more likely to acknowledge the interdisciplinary nature of BME by including other fields beyond engineering in their definitions, most commonly medicine and biology. Finally, the results of the qualitative analysis are discussed in the context of ABET bioengineering/BME program-specific criteria to add to on-going work on how BME identity may be developed during an undergraduate program. This work represents an important initial step in addressing the alignment of stakeholder understanding of BME and also may have important implications for student recruitment and retention.

Ramo, N. L., & Huang-Saad, A., & Belmont, B. (2019, June), What is Biomedical Engineering? Insights from Qualitative Analysis of Definitions Written by Undergraduate Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33555

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