BME in Residence

Even before Biomedical Engineering established an undergraduate major earlier this summer, the department had made undergraduate education a priority. Several BME faculty were already immersed in undergraduate life through Cornell’s “Learning Where You Live” residential initiative. Since August of last year, BME professors Chris Schaffer and Nozomi Nishimura have been faculty-in-residence (FIR) in Mary Donlon Hall, a first-year dorm with ~480 students. Professor Chris Hernandez is a FIR in the townhouses on North Campus. Every morning, the three faculty join thousands of first-year students on the walk from North Campus, across the gorge to their classrooms and research buildings. 

In the evening, the FIRs join students for dinner to chat and provide informal mentoring. They also organize intellectual, social, and cultural programs, including two new innovative, one-credit courses offered to first-year students. Nishimura taught BME 1120: Sautéed Science and Engineered Edibles, a class that brought about 10 students into Schaffer and Nishimura’s kitchen to explore the science of food preparation and to learn about scientific exploration and discovery. Schaffer offered BME 1110: Seeing Science in Action, a course in which students learn about the broad research goals of a lab and then shadow scientists conducting that research. In describing the impact of this course, Schaffer  said it helped familiarize students with research: “For 15 of the 16 students in the course, this was their first time stepping foot into a research laboratory. By the end of the course, they had seen the inside workings of three different labs and had a much better perspective on what it is like to be a scientist and how science gets done.” 

At the townhouses, Prof. Hernandez hosts social and educational programs twice per month. These programs not only showcase science and engineering, but also offer a taste of Cornell’s multicultural riches. Hernandez’s programs include a monthly reception featuring foods from around the world and faculty from across campus and disciplines. Key events include the annual “Spicy Chocolate” dinner, “Ethiopian Coffee,” and an afternoon of 3D printing. Through these social opportunities with Hernandez and his Faculty Fellow colleagues, multiple students  have gotten involved in research. Some have joined laboratories in BME (including Hernandez’s lab). 

Additional BME faculty get to know students through the Faculty Fellow program, a companion to the FIR initiative. Faculty Fellows don’t live in the dorms, but interact with residents by hosting programs and social events there. Xiling Shen, a fellow with the townhouses, says his most well-attended event is making bubble tea. In addition to being department chair, Marjolein van der Meulen is often seen with upperclassmen at Alice Cook House where she is a Faculty Fellow. 

BME graduate students are also very active with undergraduates, with many serving as graduate residence fellows (GRFs). These highly-competitive positions are about more than maintaining discipline in the dorms, they promote intellectual and cultural enrichment. They are mentors and friends with the undergraduates. Elizabeth Wayne, a GRF at Bethe House, says she is asked frequently about being a BME Ph.D. student. “Students often want to talk about how to get into graduate school, what my daily life is like as a Ph.D. student, and about the research that happens in my lab.” Poornima Gadamsetty, who has served as a GRF at both Flora Rose and Mary Donlon halls, says her experience as a GRF has been enriching not just for the undergrads, but for herself as well. “It’s interesting how many times I gave them career advice and got back advice on fun classes and alternative careers.” Current graduate students also serving as GRFs are Darvin Griffin, Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Adebayo, Jose Rios, Elizabeth Feeney, and Jean C. Cruz Hernandez.