Industry surveys and academic studies confirm that graduating engineers are inadequately prepared for the type of work required to develop new products that meet customer needs. The Department of Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University is proposing specific enhancements to its existing undergraduate design curriculum to improve the preparation of biomedical engineering graduates to design, develop, and commercialize new medical devices and technologies that will significantly impact public health. These enhancements will expand and build upon existing collaborations with the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, the Marquette University School of Dentistry, and other colleges within Marquette University. The goal of this project is to help students further develop 1) the interpersonal and communication skills needed to work with diverse personnel within multidisciplinary project teams, 2) an understanding of the economic, legal, regulatory, environmental, and cultural/social constraints of medical device design, and 3) the ability to work with medical and dental professionals to identify unmet clinical needs and opportunities for new product development8. The proposed enhancements will ultimately result in a better understanding of the entire product development process and an ability to translate new devices and technologies from the laboratory to the bedside.
Specific aims of this project include 1) increasing opportunities for all biomedical engineering students to expand their knowledge of the clinical environment and user needs, and develop problem identification and needs finding skills, 2) improving the preparation of students to manage projects to successfully translate and commercialize their design ideas through multidisciplinary team-based project experiences, 3) expanding students'knowledge of and experience with the entire product development process, 4) expanding students'knowledge of intellectual property, product liability, the use of standards in design, regulatory requirements, and other design issues and constraints, and 5) providing students with more opportunities to develop design solutions to open-ended problems that can significantly improve health care in underserved populations or help a single client with unmet needs to show students how their work as biomedical engineers can directly improve public health and benefit the lives of others. Goals of the proposed project will be achieved through clinical immersion activities, curricular changes including new teaching modules, and increasing the multidisciplinary nature of project teams. Collaborations between biomedical engineers and dental school faculty and industrial design students are an innovative, unique aspect of the proposed program. In addition, the clinical observation opportunities available at the undergraduate level and the highly multidisciplinary nature of the project teams involved in the senior design course makes the proposed program unique.
Among the competency gaps identified in studies of graduate engineers were teamwork, communication, business skills/knowledge, and an ability to interact with diverse multidisciplinary groups. There is a common feeling that "while engineering graduates are technically savvy, sometimes they lack training in the science of soft skills." To prepare engineers to develop innovative new products and technologies, engineering schools throughout the United States need to produce graduates with not only strong technical skills, but also the ability "to work as part of teams, communicate well, and understand the economic, social, environmental, and international context of their professional activity." The proposed enhancements will better prepare biomedical engineering graduates to identify healthcare needs and opportunities for new product development, and translate and commercialize their design ideas. Further, a multidisciplinary team approach to problem solving can significantly impact public health by producing more diverse and potentially better solutions that address the needs of underserved populations (domestic and global) including people with disabilities.