U-M BME and Shantou University Shaping the biomedical engineering workforce of tomorrow

December 13, 2018

Officials from the University of Michigan and Shantou University on Shantou University Medical College (SUMC) campus where the Chinese university is launching a transformational Biomedical Engineering program.

A new international collaboration is underway, forging deeper connections between U-M BME and Shantou University (STU) in China. The two institutions are working side by side to develop a BME program at STU that will shape the biomedical engineering workforce of tomorrow.

With a goal to create a world-class BME experience, the team led by U-M BME professors Aileen Huang-Saad and Jan Stegemann, as well as U-M BME Lecturer Rachael Schmedlen, STU-BME Associate Professor David Ng and STU-BME Professor and Chair John Fang, is working to prepare students for current and future challenges.

Preparing students

“We’re witnessing the explosion of knowledge as well as the exponential growth of information in the 21st century,” said Dr. John Fang, professor and chair of the new STU-BME program. As a result, students must develop the capabilities to self-direct their learning and identify and analyze information from among a sea of data, he says. “Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are also becoming more and more important. Last but not least, students need collaborative skills since our world is becoming more sophisticated and diversified.”

“Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are also becoming more and more important…Students need collaborative skills since our world is becoming more sophisticated and diversified.”Dr. John Fang

The Li Ka Shing Foundation has provided financial support to both institutions to support the collaborative effort. Mr. Li was motivated by a desire to give back to the area where he grew up, the Chaosan region, which is home to STU.

Currently, the funding includes support for two postdoctoral fellows at U-M. Eric Hald, an instructional fellow and STU-BME program coordinator, joined the team in 2017 and spent a year in Ann Arbor in Huang-Saad’s lab. While at U-M, he observed U-M BME courses and participated in the Instructional Incubator Huang-Saad developed. Nicole Ramo, a UM-STU postdoctoral fellow based in Ann Arbor, also in Huang-Saad’s research group, joined the team in 2018.

A natural partner

When selecting a partner with which STU would build the new biomedical engineering program, University of Michigan BME was a natural fit and role model, says Fang. “U-M BME is one of the earliest, largest and strongest BME programs in the United States. Today’s BME program at U-M is also the result of longtime pedagogical research and practice.”

“Michigan brings many years of success and institutional knowledge in undergraduate biomedical engineering education as well as an emphasis on design-focused, team-based curricula and experiential learning,” adds Hald.

Another key strength is U-M BME’s joint program in both the College of Engineering and the U-M Medical School.

“U-M’s joint program provides a great model for the new STU program,” said Hald, since Shantou University also works closely with Shantou University Medical College (SUMC) and many SUMC-affiliated hospitals. The STU-BME program also will be the first all-English degree program offered at STU, and it’s modeled after an all-English SUMC program for medical doctors.

“The STU-BME undergraduate program is poised to offer students a unique opportunity to study biomedical engineering in China.”Eric Hald

“Between the model BME curriculum at U-M and model all-English program at SUMC, the STU-BME undergraduate program is poised to offer students a unique opportunity to study biomedical engineering in China,” Hald says.

Core aims

At the heart of the new program lie five key aims: a focus on experiential learning, a comprehensive design program, the integration of BME practice, exposure to cutting-edge research and, of course, translation to clinical care.

The young STU-BME program is currently offering three courses directly through the department this fall: Calculus I, Organic Chemistry and Experiment (Lab), and Intro to Biomedical Engineering, which is modeled after U-M’s ENGR 100 Section 500 course in Biotechnology, taught by lecturers Barry Belmont, Rob Sulewski and Christian Casper.

The STU course, notes Hald, introduces students to biomedical engineering and the core disciplines offered in the STU-BME program: biomechanics and biomaterials, medical technology and medical informatics. Students gain early exposure to engineering design principles and work on a semester-long team project with SUMC clinicians and STU faculty.

Students in the new STU Biomedical Engineering program participating in a collaborative group activity.

Students attend both traditional lecture as well as lab and discussion sections. Lectures have been designed to use active learning techniques as often as possible. As an example, Hald says students work hands-on with Arduinos — single-board microcontrollers — while learning the theory via lecture. They then are asked to complete an Arduino-based electrocardiogram lab exercise.

The young program will offer a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, and students can select from among the following concentrations:

  • Biomechanics and biomaterials
  • Medical technology (equipment and imaging)
  • Medical informatics (bioinformatics)

Currently, 33 first-year undergraduate students are enrolled. In China, Hald explains, students join a program when they start their undergraduate education. “The department is being built from the ground up with each successive class,” he says.

Eric Hald, U-M BME instructional fellow and STU-BME program coordinator at the beginning of his year long instructional exchange at the Biomedical Engineering department at Shantou Univeristy.

Hald, now based in Shantou, is helping teach the first class of BME students and continues to revise and develop the curriculum with Ramo. The two are busy designing future courses as the program grows and students progress to subsequent years.

One course under development, Fundamentals of Biomedicine, will be unique to STU and combine the fundamentals of introductory cell biology, physiology and biochemistry with problem-based learning and lab sessions throughout the semester. The course is modeled after an existing course offered by SUMC to second-year undergrad medical students and will serve as the basis for future BME courses in quantitative cell biology and quantitative physiology.

Several other courses are under development. Hald and Ramo also are building relationships with SUMC-affiliated faculty and clinicians, who will serve as mentors to and project clients for students — and provide undergraduate research opportunities.

Looking to the future

As the program moves forward, the global team is working toward several goals, including building a highly engaging program through evidence-based teaching practices; recruiting faculty with a strong record of research, teaching and scholarship and developing international research collaborations that support the work of students and faculty at both institutions.

It’s an ambitious vision, one to which Hald and Ramo are both excited to contribute. “It’s an amazing opportunity to experience and be immersed in another culture,” says Hald. “I couldn’t dream of working with a better team, and in spite of many differences in culture and environment, we all have a shared interest in helping others through the field of biomedical engineering.”

“I couldn’t dream of working with a better team, and in spite of many differences in culture and environment, we all have a shared interest in helping others through the field of biomedical engineering.”Eric Hald

In only a few weeks at U-M, Ramo already has enjoyed learning about and experiencing how other institutions approach their BME undergraduate education and applying what she’s learned as a graduate teaching assistant and fellow in BME at Colorado State University, where she earned her PhD.

“Helping to build this new program is such a unique opportunity – the chance to be a part of the BME program at U-M, which has such a strong reputation worldwide, and there’s the added bonus of getting the chance to live and teach internationally.”

Fang, too, is looking ahead. “With the great support from the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the enthusiastic and effective support from U-M BME, I am confident this collaboration will be a success.”