Interdisciplinary bioengineering BS program spans both campuses
Almost everyone wants more motor power—especially if it means not having to use two hands to pick up a pencil.
And that’s what it means for people who might soon be able to use a prosthetic hand created by student Nili Krausz for her master’s project in mechanical engineering. Instead of five motors—one for each finger and one for the thumb—Krausz’ hand has an extra sixth motor in the thumb, which allows it to move in four different directions instead of only two.
“It’s an exciting design,” said Richard Weir, PhD, research associate professor of bioengineering. “[Krausz] started it before anything like it was commercially available.”
This is just one example of the high-tech health science work that’s happening in the Department of Bioengineering—and there will be even more of this work, now that CU Denver’s College of Engineering and Applied Science is adding a Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering to its graduate offerings in bioengineering. Approved in September 2012, this interdisciplinary program spans both campuses, as it combines concepts of engineering, math and physics with those of the health sciences, including biology and chemistry. Students will spend their first two years on the Denver Campus downtown and their final two years on the Anschutz Medical Campus.
“Our undergraduates will get very comprehensive training in this area, with initial exposure and competencies, and then they can focus on advanced research in the graduate program,” said Robin Shandas, PhD, professor and founding chair of the department. “I have every confidence that we’re going to be nationally ranked and that it’s going to be an outstanding program.”
With its first class of undergrads arriving on August 19, the Department of Bioengineering is the only in Colorado to offer the full spectrum of degrees, from bachelor’s to PhD.
So, why did CU Denver|Anschutz decide to expand its bioengineering program? One word: jobs.
“Advances in technology are having a dramatic effect on how doctors are practicing medicine, and bioengineering is a huge field right now. It’s absolutely exploding,” said Craig Lanning, MS, research instructor in bioengineering. “The job market in bioengineering can’t get any better.”
According to CNNMoney, biomedical engineering is the best job in the nation, in terms of pay, growth opportunities and work satisfaction. And Lanning, who has been in the department since it was established in 2010, said the Colorado biotech market is a solid one.
“It’s such a rapidly growing field, and it pays well,” Shandas said. He said that, because of the interdisciplinary nature of bioengineering, the field also naturally develops leadership skills in people.
“If you look at some of the leaders in health sciences and at medical technology companies, a lot of them, increasingly, are bioengineers,” he said. “It’s not just that you have to understand how to derive an equation but you have to apply it to biology and then explain it to someone who may not know anything about it. Communication is one of the best ways to generate your leadership potential.”
Since Shandas founded the university’s bioengineering graduate programs three years ago, they have grown to more than 60 students. Lanning will teach the first-ever freshmen course this fall, and he has confidence in the future for these students.
“They’re going to be at the top of the food chain,” he said.
Perfect for Two Passions
Incoming freshman Ryan Brody chose CU Denver|Anschutz for its bioengineering program, simple as that. The Castle Rock, Colo., native wanted to stay in state, and this university is the only one that offers a comprehensive bioengineering program.
“I’ve always been a math and science kind of guy, and I hated the idea of having to pick between them,” said Brody, who finished high school in May of this year. “This degree allows me to look at both of those options at the same time, and it fits perfectly with my end goal of a medical profession.”
Bioengineering also turned out to be a perfect fit for Shandas, the program director, who still feels passionate about bioengineering after 22 years in the field. As an undergraduate in electrical engineering, he took a class in which he was assigned to create a new design for pacemakers that would follow the body’s natural responses to different activities, instead of beating constantly at the same rate.
“I got really excited about the ability to use engineering to help people,” Shandas said. “That’s why I applied to grad school in bioengineering.”
Brody learned about the field of bioengineering just recently, but since the Science Olympiad tournament competitor has researched the field further, he’s convinced it’s the option for him.
“If you like math and science, bioengineering is the best thing ever,” he said.
Hands-on Projects, Real-world Impact
Lately, Lanning’s leisure-time reading list has included titles like How to Understand Your 18-year-old. This fall, the seasoned and published bioengineer will teach the department’s very first bachelor’s-level BIOE 1010 course.
“We want to get them excited from the beginning,” he said.
He has structured the intro course in a way that exposes students to the field right away, through guest lectures, clinical research and hands-on design projects. He also wants them to begin immediately using the department’s brand-new 3-D printers, laser scanners and state-of-the art software for turning medical images into anatomically correct, patient-specific parts.
“Our undergrads are going to be able to do projects that have potential for real-world impact, maybe something a company might want to license,” Lanning said. “We want them to understand what the pay-out is for making this commitment to the program and what they’re going to be able to do with their degree.”
Lanning’s syllabus will be heavy on group projects, and he wants the undergrads to get a chance both to design and to build—just like the master’s students—in order to get a real taste for the profession.
“We really want to get them in there learning how to interact with doctors and how to prototype from the first day,” he said. “It’ll be pretty rigorous in terms of standards we’re going to hold them to.”
Brody will be one of the students in Lanning’s first BIOE 1010 class on August 23, and he’s ready for the challenge.
“Looking at those [bioengineering] classes, I have a feeling they’re going to be my favorites,” Brody said. “They’re a combination of all the things I enjoy, all in the same place.”