The University of Kentucky (UK) has announced a new undergraduate major in biomedical engineering (BME). This program, housed in the College of Engineering and supported by the College of Design, is powered by design thinking and available to students beginning this fall. Previously, BME studies at UK were only available to students pursuing graduate studies or the BME minor.
“Because many of our incoming students see significant challenges facing the healthcare industry and want to make a difference, it’s only natural that we add biomedical engineering to our slate of undergraduate majors,” said Rudy Buchheit, dean of the College of Engineering. “But it is our partnership with the College of Design that makes our biomedical engineering major a truly unique student experience.”
Features of the collaboration include courses taught by faculty members in both colleges, required courses in the humanities, studio experiences and a two-semester interdisciplinary Capstone Senior Design project that challenges students to creatively engineer a solution to a healthcare issue posed by collaborating industrial or healthcare partners.
“No other institution of higher education in Kentucky offers a degree in industrial or product design,” said College of Design Dean Mitzi Vernon, “and to join with the Department of Biomedical Engineering, we can both broaden and sharpen the scope of the program to address healthcare challenges, which is ever more consequential now.”
Guigen Zhang, chair of the F. Joseph Halcomb III, M.D. Department of Biomedical Engineering, says placing design thinking at the center of the program while emphasizing clinical and industrial relevance is what sets UK’s BME major apart from other universities.
“Most BME programs teach students how to solve problems, but they don’t teach how to interact with people in ways that allow for a deeper understanding of the clinical problem. Design thinking emphasizes the people who will use what our students develop. College of Design faculty members’ knowledge of user experience, user interface and more will help BME students gain skills to sense and meet unarticulated needs. In short, our BME program teaches students to put people—doctors, nurses, patients, and others—in their design loop.”
The BME major has long been a dream of alumnus Joe Halcomb (BSME 1974), whose $7 million gift to transform the BME department in 2016 helped pave the way for the major to become a reality.
“Finally having a BME program at the undergraduate level is a dream come true for me. I just know our BME graduates will advance engineering technologies in medicine and improve people’s lives,” said Dr. Halcomb.
Although formally recognized as a department in 2013, BME research and education at UK dates back to the 1950s. In the past year, its faculty has doubled from six members to 12. Research areas include neural networks, optics, cardiovascular, lower-back, nanotechnology, biosensors and more. BME undergraduates will have no shortage of avenues for exploring their area of interest.
“The BME major is ideal for anyone seeking a career in industry, the healthcare professions, government agencies or graduate studies in BME,” said Zhang. “I’m excited to see what this young generation can do to transform healthcare.”