Director's Message 2021

Marjolein van der Meulen
Marjolein van der Meulen

Welcome to our 2021 newsletter! I write this message to you just after the long overdue 2020 commencement, held on September 19, 2021. The event provided some perspective on the past year. Having been uncertain whether we could pull off this celebration, we disproved the skeptics with a lovely gathering and perfect weather that felt just like May, but a little more joyous for the journey we traveled to get there. We hosted both undergraduate and Master of Engineering BME graduates at Weill Hall before the university event. Thank you to the 2020 alumni and families who were able to return. We missed those of you who were unable to attend and hope to see you at your five-year reunion, which is just around the corner. 

We were fortunate to have an in-person graduation for our 2021 graduates last May. Often our Memorial Day event feels late compared to our peers, but the delayed timing worked in our favor this year. To de-densify, four separate outdoor events were held with masks, physical distancing, vaccinations and limited guests. The BME gathering after the fourth and final university ceremony felt similar to prior graduations: happy students, proud families, lots of photos and beautiful weather. Congratulations Class of 2021! 

The 2021 commencement was the end to a unique academic year. A silver lining was that our campus-based COVID testing and modeling programs were a real success, enabling us to transition back to on-campus interactions in the spring and summer. We had no virus transmission in any classrooms, very encouraging news as we start the 2021-22 academic year. And, this summer “first year” Ph.D. students from both the 2020 and 2021 classes were able to complete the clinical immersion at Weill Cornell Medicine. Our largest cohort to-date spent seven weeks in Manhattan shadowing physicians and watching surgeries. 

Planning for the Fall 2021 semester assumed a return-to-normal for classroom teaching and the student residential experience. Our course roster is always modeled on a prior version, and fall 2019 was the basis used: all teaching in person, no more six-foot separation, and back to using all classrooms on campus. In addition, vaccination is required for students, and our campus rate is well over 90% for our whole community. Then the Delta variant came along, and masks were required again inside, and then outside on campus. After an initial increase in asymptomatic cases in arriving students, and an over 1% positivity rate in testing, we seem to have returned to a better steady state. Having campus fully populated again is really wonderful.  

We spent much of last year on strategic planning for the College of Engineering, led by our new Dean, Professor Lynden Archer. For BME, a particularly exciting aspect of planning has been a focus on interactions between the College and Weill Cornell Medicine. A joint task force was charged to examine educational and research opportunities. Joint offerings could include an M.D.-Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) degree, potentially an exciting fit with the M.Eng. design projects that are featured in the pages to follow Research discussions centered not only on current areas of synergy, but also on emerging opportunities and educating and empowering the physicians of the future. We hope to share more about these programs as we realize the task force vision. 

This year’s newsletter showcases our design education. Design is a unique and critical engineering skill, and “Senior Design” is a ritual for all engineering majors. Seeing the progress of the BME senior design projects with each graduating class has been truly inspiring; every year is more impressive than the last. This year’s project quality was remarkable, and many could be used as initial prototypes for entrepreneurial ventures. On the M.Eng. side, our annual industry engagement day, held virtually this past May, becomes a bigger success each year. I look forward to hosting the event live in Ithaca next spring!   


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