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NerdScholar Favorites: Biomedical Engineering Programs

July 10, 2014
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Health care and technology have come together to create those trendy gadgets that everyone seems to be sporting, such as fitness watches and sleep monitors. But perhaps more importantly, their union has also produced some groundbreaking and life-saving products, including the heart pacemaker and prosthetic body parts. For many people, life would be considerably more difficult if it weren’t for contributions from the field of biomedical engineering, which applies engineering principles to medicine for health care purposes, such as diagnosis and treatment.

» MORE: How to choose a college major with loan debt in mind

Much like software engineers, biomedical engineers are constantly in high demand, and in today’s world, the need for better medical care has made them more important than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, biomedical engineering is the fastest-growing occupation, and is expected to grow 62% between 2010 and 2020.

To learn more about this invaluable field, NerdScholar has compiled a list of some of our favorite schools producing biomedical engineers.


Rice University—Most Engaging

Rice University’s bioengineering program has consistently ranked among the nation’s top 10 since the program was founded in 1997.  Students apply to the prestigious program at the same time that they apply to the university, which not only reflects its competitive nature, but also the demands of its curriculum, which starts at the beginning of freshman year. “Students benefit from a strong curriculum that develops problem-solving skills, scientific and technological literacy, and research skills through real-world problems and hands-on experiences,” says Michael Deem, chairman of the bioengineering department. “Students’ involvement in engineering, product design research, and scientific publication begins early.” Early involvement in advanced projects is facilitated by Rice’s central location in Houston, which provides students with wide opportunities in industry, academic and government institutions. Even so, most research occurs on Rice’s campus: 75% of undergraduates in the program conduct research in faculty laboratories, research centers and institutes, or at the adjacent Texas Medical Center—the largest medical center in the world.


University of Memphis—Most Community-Oriented

The biomedical engineering program at the University of Memphis is housed in the Herff College of Engineering, and its mission is to advance the industry and the community through cutting-edge research. “People, purposes, and programs make education in biomedical engineering at the University of Memphis a special opportunity,” says marketing manager Susan Prater. The program intends to solve real problems in our health care system, as reflected in its focus areas of drug delivery, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. Many faculty members have patents on medical products, and their expertise both challenges and inspires students. During senior year, students work with teams on industry-sponsored projects, and past senior capstone projects include a wheelchair rain-shield and a bone spreader. Students design and develop items that restore function and increase the quality of life, and they do so while interacting closely with faculty and sponsors.


Tufts University—Most Interdisciplinary

Tufts University in Massachusetts offers many degree options for biomedical engineering. Students can major in biomedical engineering alone; or pursue a double major in biomedical engineering and another engineering program, or biomedical sciences and another liberal arts program. Not only is the field itself interdisciplinary, but the program has a multidisciplinary approach that encourages biomedical education in conjunction with other disciplines. In addition, the major is designed to give students continuous research opportunities. Students apply to the major as freshmen because “starting in their sophomore year, they conduct a research project every semester focusing on regenerative medicine or sensing systems,” says Jane Carter, acting communications director for the School of Engineering. By the time they graduate, students have participated in numerous projects that prepare them for success in the competitive biomedical job market. Past projects have included creating robotic arms, silk biomaterials, and spectroscopic imaging devices.


Duquesne University—Most Innovative

The biomedical engineering program at Duquesne University was founded recently, but it is already making itself known in the field. The program focuses on biomedical optics, biomaterials, and biosensor development, and the university’s location in Pittsburgh gives students research opportunities at renowned institutions and medical startups. But what really makes the program stand out is its pioneering dual undergraduate degree program in biomedical engineering and nursing. The BME/BSN degree is the first of its kind in the United States, and focuses on patient care and practical applications of biomedical engineering products. The program takes the perspective of the patient, which gives students valuable insight on “all phases of biomedical innovation, from identifying clinical problems to developing technical solutions and evaluating clinical outcomes,” says Karen Ferrick-Roman, media relations manager. The biomedical engineering program at Duquesne, especially when combined with a nursing degree, offers students an ideal balance of health care and technology.


Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University/Florida State University—Most Well-Rounded

Florida A&M University and Florida State University have a joint College of Engineering that houses the department of chemical and biomedical engineering. The department includes both of these fields because of their overlapping principles and practices. Biomedical engineering at FAMU-FSU builds upon chemical engineering to focus on cellular and biochemical transformations in natural and synthetic environments, most specifically human beings. The chemical background of the program reinforces the students’ strong scientific coursework and engineering training. Alonda Thomas, director of media relations, says that students become prepared “for academic and professional work through classroom and laboratory instruction and research with modern experimental, mathematical, and computational tools.” The rigorous curriculum produces well-rounded engineers, who in addition to the relevant biomedical coursework take classes in chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering.


University of Minnesota—Most Industry Experience

The biomedical engineering program at the University of Minnesota seeks to prepare students for the rapidly changing field by exposing them to professional networks. During freshman year, students take a two-course seminar in which they’re introduced to field research by professors, and to medical devices and career opportunities by practicing biomedical engineers. The relationships with practicing biomedical professionals are due in part to the university’s location in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where there are more than 300 medical device firms, including Medtronics and Boston Scientific, both Fortune 500 companies. These companies also provide mentors for senior design projects and speakers for classes. “We have the perfect setup here in Minnesota,” says Bob Tranquillo, head of the department of biomedical engineering. “We have opportunities for students to collaborate with other science and engineering students, medical researchers, and members of a major medical device industry. Students also have access to great labs and facilities on campus, including our unique Medical Devices Center.” Students have the freedom to tailor their studies to their career interests during their senior year, when they are encouraged to create a custom track with eight engineering electives.


Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.

Medical student image courtesy of Shutterstock.