The Meinig School majors program promotes full interaction between, among, and beyond disciplines from a real-world, problem-based perspective, resulting in a revolutionary engineer with the capability to integrate separate subjects and work within teams to solve real-world biomedical problems.
Our trans-curricular, project-based vision redefines the training of undergraduate biomedical engineers to produce graduates with the professional attributes essential for the future Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce. We accomplish this through a unique approach to pedagogy, curriculum, and experiential learning, empowering students to embrace the challenges and opportunities of study, to develop new skills, and to innovate in an area of their chosen interest. We believe this approach best prepares students for engineering excellence and innovation within the real-world variability and risk inherent at the interface of engineering, biology, and medicine. Expanded highlights of our approach are as follows:
PEDAGOGY: HOW WE TEACH
Our teaching strategy is unique in its focus on innovation in education and assessment. Our trans-curricular program blends a vertically-integrated curriculum with experiential learning to provide engineering context and purposefully develop professional skills. This maximizes synergistic progression of content, complementary reinforcement when needed, and ensures students develop mastery and confidence in fundamentals such as computational strategies and design over the course of the curriculum. Our teaching philosophy connects a traditional, instructor-centered approach to one based in real and authentic working situations, ensuring differentiated training as well as promoting integrated, high-level thinking skills. Students are highly involved in their own learning process; they work in teams and are encouraged to take initiative and to make public presentations, fostering student-motivated application and social contextualization of curricular content.
Unique to Cornell BME, our expert faculty work in small, ensemble teaching teams to jointly design multi-course sequences integrating curricular content and overarching projects and themes, and to optimize educational strategies by leveraging resources and increasing capacity for pedagogical innovation. Embedded in these teams are Faculty Internal Best-practice ExpeRts (FIBERs) who educate colleagues and coordinate the deployment of the latest content specific pedagogical best practices throughout the program. Select, additional graduate student teaching assistants (or TAs) also work as contextual liaisons with faculty ensembles to facilitate the incorporation of content across courses and to add material associated with experiential projects.
CURRICULUM: WHAT WE TEACH
Our curriculum is an innovative presentation of BME content in its focus on applications and deep experiential learning for all students. Students first enroll in a core curriculum of shared math, physics, biology, and chemistry fundamentals, as well as distributed engineering courses in preparation for affiliating with the BME major. Unlike most engineering programs, our coursework is “flipped” in that we present the application, opportunity, and challenge landscape first. The more rigorous theoretical, experimental, and design skills are filled in during subsequent courses. We believe this approach primes students to engage with challenging material because they will understand the importance of the practical skills within context.
Our curriculum’s four cornerstone courses capture the application/opportunity space within four concentrations (fields where BME skills add critical value). Students will survey each of these concentrations before choosing one to pursue in more detail. These courses also provide key concepts and skills that every BME graduate needs to have within each of these areas. During the bulk of the major, students will engage in two parallel tracks. All BME students pursue a sequential series of core, multi-scale engineering analysis of human biological systems courses. These laboratory-supported courses articulate engineering processes within molecular, cellular, tissue, and organ system physiology, and empower students to recognize disease mechanisms as occurring across these scales, and engineering solutions that are robust through these scales. Each student will also pursue one of four concentration areas that communicate field-specific concepts, theory, and engineering skills essential for career success. Each concentration culminates in a unique laboratory practicum that trains and enables students to build new technologies specific to their area of BME expertise.
Finally, all BME students come together to pursue a year-long design sequence building solutions to open-ended problems from the biomedical industry and clinic. Each member of a BME design team will gain unique knowledge and training, enabling them to lead and take responsibility for their area of the problem space. This is a critical component for successful BME careers, as industrial design teams seek out individuals with complementary and non-overlapping skills and that can recognize where and how to add value to a product, and then confidently innovate to achieve it. This culminating experience is also an excellent opportunity for students to hone these professional skills before embarking on their careers.
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: KNOWLEDGE DISCOVERY AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The BME major curriculum is reinforced by a progressive experiential learning component designed to connect a student’s coursework with experiences relevant to their interests and career goals. The ability to create knowledge and understanding where it previously didn’t exist at the undergraduate level requires a different educational framework involving cycles of experience, empiricism, and reflection. It is critical that students are confident entering uncertain problem spaces, associating their knowledge/skillsets to their observations, and innovating solutions. Furthermore, it is critical that students engage their communities to elevate the importance of what they do and the value they add through their innovations. BME graduates who evangelize their knowledge and skills have much broader career opportunities and impact potential than peers in other engineering disciplines. We achieve this through participation in long-term experiential learning activities. These activities vary based on student interest, but incorporate a problem space and a community within which to practice. See Experiential Learning for examples. Students will further interact with mentors and peers to explore how curricular activities intersect with real-world experiences and to create and solve problems in those communities using their knowledge and tools. This focus allows students to develop and master professional skills through presentations, reflective questions, and mini project problems.