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New Major In Biomedical Engineering Approved

October 23, 2003 -- The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently approved a new undergraduate major in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia.

U.Va. has offered graduate degrees in biomedical engineering since 1967 and an undergraduate minor for the past four years. But until now, it had not offered a bachelor’s degree program in this rapidly emerging field.

“This new degree will enable us to compete for the most talented young people in the country who are captivated by this exciting discipline.” said Thomas C. Skalak, chairman of the department, which is a joint program of U.Va.’s School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We appreciate President Casteen’s vision and support for this multidisciplinary program at a time of fiscal challenge for the Commonwealth.”

U.Va.’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is ranked among the top 20 programs in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. The discipline comprises more than 80 programs in the United States and about 200 in Europe.

The field of biomedical engineering has developed rapidly over the past decade, thanks in part to support from the Whitaker Foundation, said William F. Walker, assistant professor and undergraduate program director for U.Va.’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Whitaker is a private, nonprofit foundation based in Rosslyn, Va., and dedicated to the growth of the field of biomedical engineering.

The field also has gained acceptability and visibility in recent years and jobs in medicine and industry have opened up for graduates, Walker said.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that jobs in the field of biomedical engineering will increase 31.4 percent by 2010 — triple the rate for all other engineering jobs.

U.Va.’s program has benefited from these national trends, as well as from strong administrative support from the deans of U.Va.’s engineering and medical schools, and through funding from Whitaker, Walker said.

In 1998, Whitaker gave two grants to U.Va., a $3 million development grant to strengthen the program and a $7.5 million grant toward the construction of a biomedical and medical sciences building. The development grant has been used to hire and equip labs for four new biomedical engineering faculty members. And completion of the building, MR-5, in 2002 enabled the department to move into a world-class building with new teaching labs.

The department has added about a dozen new courses to the curriculum in the past five years, creating a program designed to teach students how to integrate the quantitative skills needed by engineers with the understanding of biology, chemistry and physics needed by medical researchers.

“This new major will strengthen our program and help us work toward boosting U.Va.’s Department of Biomedical Engineering into the top 10 nationally,” Skalak said.

U.Va. faculty members endorsed the program last spring and the University’s Board of Visitors gave its stamp of approval in the summer. The department hopes to secure accreditation for the program from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology by 2007.

According to Walker, most of the faculty members needed to teach the additional classes are in place and Whitaker has provided funds to equip teaching laboratories.

There are currently about 280 Engineering School undergraduates who have declared minors in biomedical engineering. Of those, four fourth-year students expect to complete the requirements for the new major this coming May. A larger group of about 35 students is expected to complete the requirements for the degree by the spring of 2005, and 45 a year later.

There are also 58 graduate students enrolled in the department.

“We get some of the best and brightest students in the nation,” Walker said. “They are ambitious and they will inevitably develop into more than just in-the-trenches engineers. Many will become technical leaders or move into management as their careers develop. This new interdisciplinary major will give them the tools they need to succeed throughout their careers.”

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Last Modified: Thursday, 23-Oct-2003 12:25:42 EDT
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