In Its First Year, Duquesne Biomedical Engineering Program Draws Keen Interest

As Duquesne University ends its first year of offering biomedical engineering (BME), it finds itself a leader in generating more female engineers-with 47 percent more women enrolled in the new program than the national average for females working in the field.

Across the nation, women account for less than 28 percent of workers in all science and engineering occupations, according to the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. In bioengineering and biomedical engineering, women account for 18.2 percent of the workforce. At Duquesne, females account for about 65 percent of the BME enrollment-three times the national average for women working in the field, said Dr. John Viator, director.

Duquesne's pioneering program launched as the BME field exploded. The Bureau of Labor statistics project that BME employment needs through 2022 will skyrocket by 27 percent, far beyond the average job growth of 11 percent.

An attractive mix of theoretical and hands-on experiences at Duquesne appears to resonate with students. In its first year, 20 percent more students than anticipated enrolled in the program, for a total of 24. In its second year, more than 230 applicants are interested in 25 class slots, Viator said.

"The new BME program is positioned to educate a new generation of engineers with the latest technology while laying a firm foundation of mathematical and scientific theory," said Viator. "Having no institutional inertia, we can implement innovative strategies from the imaginations of our faculty, staff and students, opening as yet unknown ways to learn and grow as engineers."

Many students in this inaugural BME class were drawn to Duquesne by the feeling of breaking new ground, by an intimate class size that fosters collaboration, and the personable, passionate Viator and his faculty. As freshmen, they already have jumped into the research arena.

For instance, Cecelia Lee-Hauser talked about hands-on experience with a diagnostic test for diseases, including cancer. This summer, she is using photoacoustics-a laser that produces a high-frequency sound and an image based upon that sound-to identify different bacteria. "Hopefully, we can identify bacteria in 20 to 60 minutes instead of three days," Lee-Hauser said.

Classmate Julianna Twigg will spend her time with the Summer Undergraduate Research Program trying to prove that cerebral spinal fluid is translucent and that different disease cells could be made visible within it. In the past year, Liz Petrell has learned to culture cells, draw blood, and use equipment in the BME labs and in the partnering Tech Shop, welding, laser etching, programming 3-D printers, and working in the metal and wood shops. She is developing a prototype microscope-none currently exist-to record the inaudible sounds of photoacoustics.

Marc Hazur is a research assistant on a $1.4 million National Institutes of Health grant Viator received to detect melanoma cells, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, with lasers.

"I looked forward to coming here and working in the lab right away," he said.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.