Body of work: Building a bioengineering pool of talent

UCD and CU Med school collaborate on new undergrad program in bioengineering

BY ADAM GOLDSTEIN, Staff Writer

AURORA | The distance between engineering and medicine isn’t so far for Robin Shandas.

Shandas will chair the newly approved undergraduate bioengineering program offered through the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. The 128-hour program will allow undergraduates the opportunity to specialize in bioengineering for a bachelor of science degree, spending their first two years immersed in biology, math, physics and chemistry classes at the university’s Denver campus. The second two years will include coursework at the University of Colorado School of Medicine campus in Aurora, as students interact with practicing physicians.

“We emphasize the questions how do you make something real? How do you actually solve a problem? How do you invent or build something? As engineers, these are the things that we like to do,” said Shandas, the program chair and a professor in the University of Colorado Denver’s Department of Bioengineering. Shandas is also a professor in University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Department of Surgery. “This program allows us to apply those questions to the human body.”

The university’s Board of Regents and the Colorado Department of Higher Education have both approved the new bachelor of science degree. CU will begin accepting applications in October for the first cohort of undergraduates that will kick off courses at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. According to Shandas, the development of the new undergraduate program stemmed in part from the success and popularity of graduate and Ph.D programs in bioengineering that have been in place for about three years.

“We’ve had the department for about three years. I think it’s one of the newer departments in the University of Colorado system. We’ve been offering master’s and Ph.D degrees in that time. We’ve had one cohort of graduates,” said Shandas, who has started several bioengineering companies in the state. “I’ve been in Colorado since 1994, and I’ve felt that a lot of students ended up leaving the state to pursue degrees in bioengineering … We wanted to create something interesting, but also something that ties and fits into the market need for engineers.”

Shandas said the program will seek high school students at the top of their class, adding that the program will seek to make ties to local districts and science, technology, engineering and math programs. The healthcare-focused Aurora LIGHTS program at the Aurora Public Schools district, for example, could be a potential local pool for applicants in the future.

“It will be rigorous, very competitive,” Shandas said, adding that the program will accept applications from the top 10 percent of high school students. “We’ve set up a program to reach out to high schools. Faculty travels to different high schools and science classes.”

Following their first two years at the University of Colorado Denver campus at Auraria, students will work with physicians and professors at the University of Colorado Medical School in Aurora.

“After the first two years, they come to the medical campus for the professional preparation program. It’s similar to the graduate program,” Shandas said, adding that there are four applicants for every single slot in the master’s program for bioengineering. “We have a lot of students working with the clinical faculty, the medical science faculty, doing a lot of what I call design work … It’s one of the few programs in the country where students study at a medical campus.”

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at agoldstein@aurorasentinel.com or 720-449-9707

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