Revised Biomedical Engineering Curriculum Drafts Storyline to Success

By: Diana Riggs
Date: May 7, 2018

Changes in undergraduate biomedical engineering program requirements addresses academic barriers and offers students more resources.

The department of biomedical engineering (BME) at University of Cincinnati is implementing changes in the undergraduate curriculum, including additional course requirements and a simplification of electives. These changes began to take effect in the Spring of 2017, and some new courses will be offered for the first time this fall. 

One goal of these changes is to address disparities in physics knowledge among BME students. There is no uniformity of physics curriculum taught among high schools, so students enter CEAS with vastly different amounts of knowledge of physics. BME’s planned curriculum changes aim to level the playing field for students who may have no background in physics. BME has identified a series of concepts to teach so students can understand the underlying physics principles that apply to almost any professional application of biomedical engineering.

Angela Boronyak, PhD, assistant professor-educator for the College of Engineering of Applied Science, assumed the additional role of undergraduate program director for biomedical engineering in January. As program director, one of her top priorities is the development of BME curriculum. The changes in curriculum were made before she arrived at UC, but she hopes to be an effective conduit for sharing this vital information with students and helping them understand how the changes can benefit their education.

One of the most significant changes is that new BME students will be expected to complete three semesters of physics. This addition was made in response to faculty concern that first year students were entering the college with a wide range of foundational physics knowledge. Depending on which high school students attended, students may have never been introduced to college-level physics concepts. Even if some of the students had physics in high school, they may be trying to recall information from years ago once they needed it at UC. BME hopes the addition of a physics requirement will establish a baseline of expected knowledge to unify the cohort’s progression through the program.

Other revisions to the program include the addition of mechanics courses specific to biomedical engineers and a simplified menu of electives. Based on student feedback, BME has clarified the elective selection process for students by presenting the elective options divided into fewer, clearer categories.

Another major goal for Boronyak is to boost awareness of the BME curriculum tracks. BME currently offers two tracks: medical device innovation and research translation and entrepreneurship. The medical device design track has had steady enrollment for years for many reasons, and the department wants to replicate that success for the other track, which offers a multitude of research opportunities for students through research labs in engineering, UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Boronyak reframed this enrollment issue as a branding issue. “We don’t have as many students sign up for the research translation and entrepreneurship track because they didn’t know what it was when they enrolled. Research sounds ambiguous when you are a first year student.”

Boronyak concluded that more students would choose the track if they could immediately identify opportunities the “research translation” option would offer. By rebranding the track, she hopes to demonstrate its practical applications to incoming first year students who are choosing a major. “A lot of it is advertising to students. It’s not a matter of changing much what we do, but it's making them aware of what they can get from the track,” said Boronyak. She plans to highlight current research opportunities within the track to help showcase UC’s research strengths and industry connections; these research opportunities include tissue engineering, imaging and bioinformatics.

Boronyak envisions the curriculum as a storyline that leads students to becoming innovative and formidable engineers. She hopes the changes will clarify the connections between crucial concepts that students are expected to learn, and streamline students’ progressive growth to graduation.

For more information about the curriculum changes or the BME program, please contact the department of biomedical engineering.