2020 BME Newsletter

Message from the Director:  Marjolein C.H. van der Meulen

Marjolein van der Meulen
Marjolein van der Meulen

Welcome to our 2020 newsletter! This year has had its fair share of challenges and victories. We’re all familiar with the former, so I’d like to focus on the latter, and to share the punch line at the start: It’s a good time to be a Cornellian! 

Cornell is the only Ivy League campus open for undergraduate instruction this Fall, which is a real point of pride. After an intense summer of planning, students arrived in August, and classes started on September 2. After low virus prevalence all summer, the Ithaca community was quite nervous about the arrival of so many students. The university has developed an extensive COVID-19 testing program, with all students tested and quarantined during move in. The surveillance testing is quite impressive, involving as many as 6,000 tests per day and about 35,000 tests per week. Personally, I’ve been able to walk in, swab and walk out in about two minutes during my weekly appointments. After some early virus clusters, our numbers are encouraging, and the cases on campus and in Ithaca right now are low. Cornell’s COVID-19 data are included in the daily Tompkins County health department updates. If you haven’t already seen it, check out Cornell’s dashboard with testing data.

Like much of the nation, we shuttered our activities in March when the pandemic began and Governor Cuomo shut down New York state. All classes moved online. The Meinig School maintained a low level of research activity that increased as faculty began COVID-19-related research projects (see feature p. 4), and we re-activated our research labs midsummer.  

Today we are teaching a mix of in-person, online and hybrid courses. Over the summer all classrooms were set up to ensure 6’ distancing and allow participation of remote students. With these requirements, our classroom inventory is much smaller, and classes with over 50 students have to be online or alternate attendance in hybrid format. Some of our largest lecture halls now only hold 50 students, a strange reality. Faculty were given the choice of teaching mode. BME succeeded in offering in-person options for undergraduate students, but fewer for graduate students. Our in-person offerings include lab sections, smaller discussion sections and select lecture classes. After teaching entirely online during the end of the Spring semester, seeing students in person―and activity on campus―is wonderful. 

The recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one Cornell’s highest profile alumnae, was a sad milestone but also a testament to Cornell. She was Class of 1954, arriving in Ithaca in Fall 1950, a time when few institutions of higher education were open to women. Personally, I am grateful for the progress driven by Justice Ginsburg and manifest today in Cornell's College of Engineering, whose undergraduates are now 50% female. In BME, our undergraduates remain 75% female.

Along with the rest of our country and the world, we were devastated and heartbroken by the incidents against Black Americans in Minnesota, Georgia and other places across the US this year. Cornell BME is a diverse community. Equity and inclusion are essential to who we are, and make us stronger. We are committed to the fight against racism, discrimination, racial bias, and racial injustice. President Martha Pollack announced a series of campus-wide initiatives. One in which everyone can participate is the Community Book Read of “How to Be an Antiracist,” by National Book Award winner Ibram X. Kendi, providing a starting point as we strive to create a more just and equitable Cornell.


Marjolein C.H. van der Meulen
James M. and Marsha McCormick
Director of Biomedical Engineering
Swanson Professor of Biomedical