After Florida International University began allowing students to pick their majors during their freshman year, BME 1008 was inaugurated to help students understand what a degree in biomedical engineering truly entails. Initially offered by Jorge Riera and Shuliang Jiao, both associate professors of biomedical engineering, the course was designed to help students explore different ways to achieve an optimal career path in the field of biomedical engineering. The class aimed at providing students with the background and technical knowledge required to advance throughout the different levels of an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering.
Two years later, BME 1008 Introduction to Biomedical Engineering has increased its credit hours from one to two credits. Through collaboration with the STEM Transformation Institute and a grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Riera was selected to serve as an ONR Faculty Scholar. The program supports course transformation by providing learning assistants, summer planning support, and participation in a course design institute at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. As part of the course, Riera invites experts with different backgrounds and experiences in academics, industry, and healthcare to serve as guest lecturers. Engaging with professionals in the field allows students the opportunity to further explore the diverse aspects of the discipline.
The main areas of transformation include the introduction of lab experience and technical programming in MatLab and the incorporation of guided learning activities. The added experience allows students to examine real world problems addressed by biomedical engineers from a multidisciplinary approach, allowing them find solutions and discover new ideas. As part of the ONR Faculty Scholar program, three Learning Assistants (LAs), upper level undergraduate students, Karla Alejandra Montejo, Elizabeth Solis, and Teresa Milan work alongside Riera in engaging students in active learning exercises and supporting student learning.
The two main active learning exercises are the Shark Tank and Bioethics Debate. Much like the senior design projects, the Shark Tank assignment affords students the opportunity to apply their classroom learning into practical industry designs. As a team, students create detailed presentations to present in front of an expert panel of judges – their fellow classmates. Each group has the opportunity to serve as the entrepreneurs and the investors. Thinking beyond current technologies, the goal of the project is to look into the future of biomedical engineering and present a proposal for a medical device that may become available to the public in the next 20 years. The final proposals are judged by the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Student Organization (BMES). Riera says, “The students do an excellent job working together to come up with practical solutions. It is a fun assignment that has real world applications.”
In the Bioethics Debate, the students tackle the hot topics in biomedical engineering. The topics are often controversial and encourage the students to take a multidisciplinary approach when coming up with solutions. There are no easy answers. The most recent debates surrounded the ZMapp vaccine used for the treatment of the Ebola virus and the use of cannabis (medical marijuana) for treating patients with epilepsy. The active learning assignments are designed to force the students to apply their classroom work in a way that resembles the issues they will face in their careers as biomedical engineers.
The transformation of BME 1008 has been an exciting process for the students and faculty. Riera believes, “The students leave this class with the foundation needed for a successful journey as a BME undergrad.”