Biomedical engineering (BME) is one of the fastest growing engineering disciplines in the US.
BME at the University of Vermont (UVM) has an extended history, starting with the creation of a master’s degree in 1973. The opportunities for BME on campus are compelling since the engineering departments in the Votey building are separated from the medical school and its teaching hospital (the UVM Medical Center) by only a couple of hundred yards of green space.
In 2010, the master’s degree in BME was replaced with a cross-campus PhD in bioengineering under the auspices of the Graduate College. The program has already produced half a dozen graduates who have gone on to pursue careers in medicine, academia and industry. Students in the bioengineering PhD program can draw on advisors in both the College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences (CEMS) and the Larner College of Medicine, and in some cases both, while also taking courses in complex systems as well as courses targeted specifically to their fields of study.
It has only been recently, however, that the opportunities for BME at UVM have been fully leveraged with the creation of a four-year undergraduate degree program that had its first intake of students in fall of 2016, and the reintroduction of the MS degree that will see its first students in fall of 2018. Biomedical concentrations at the undergraduate level in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computational modeling provide additional opportunities for students to train at the interface between biology and medicine.
Only in its second year, the current enrollment of nearly 100 students (including 50 freshman and 35 sophomores) has already made BME’s size on par with long-established programs in CEMS. The BME program is also one of the most popular programs among female students in CEMS.
Meanwhile, the inaugural undergraduate class of 15 juniors is gearing up for its final senior year in AY2018-19, a key component of which will be the capstone senior design project, known affectionately as SEED (Senior Engineering Experience in Design). The Larner College of Medicine and the UVM Medical Center are ready sources of projects and advisors waiting to engage with excited young biomedical engineers keen to make their mark on such things as new diagnostic devices, novel approaches to delivery of therapeutics, and quantitative methods of medical image analysis.
This meteoric rise in popularity is being met by the hiring of additional faculty to meet teaching and advising demands. Three new assistant professors, Drs. Ryan McGinnis, Niccolo Fiorentino and Amber Doiron (starting Fall 2018), have joined UVM in support of the BME program and more are anticipated in the near future. In addition, a number of biomedical engineering faculty in the Larner College of Medicine, such as Drs. Jason Bates, Bruce Beynnon, Richard Watts and Marilyn Cipolla are also contributing courses to the new BME program, making it a true inter-college collaboration.
The strength of BME as an academic discipline at UVM rests on the strength of its faculty since these are the individuals who provide the teaching, advising and supervision that students rely on. Of crucial importance to the program is that these faculty are themselves nationally and internationally recognized biomedical engineers who run well-funded research laboratories. It is within these laboratories, more than anywhere else, that students find the inspiration and gain the experience necessary to eventually succeed themselves in the highly rewarding but competitive world of biomedical research.
Particular research strengths in BME at UVM include orthopedic biomechanics (Drs. Beynnon and Fiorentino), lung pathophysiology (Dr. Bates), biomaterials (Dr. Rachael Oldinski), sensors and signals (Dr. McGinnis), muscle micromechanics (Drs. David Warshaw and Chris Berger), and medical and biological imaging (Drs. Richard Watts, Michael Radermacher and Tereza Ruiz).