September 15, 2019 | 68° F

U. faculty, RWJUH collaborate on Innovative Senior Design Program

Photo by Courtesy of Susan Engelhardt |

Left to right: Associate Professor Francois Berthiaume, Executive Director Susan Engelhardt and Assistant Professors Ramsey Foty and Tomer Davidov are a part of the joint venture called the Innovative Senior Design Program.

For the second year in a row, Rutgers faculty members and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital have come together to create a joint venture called the Innovative Senior Design Program for fourth-year biomedical engineering students.

All senior biomedical engineering students must participate in a Senior Design class, said Susan Engelhardt, the program’s executive director. Only a select few students have the privilege of participating in the design program.

The program began in fall 2012, when the Department of Biomedical Engineering sought a grant from the National Institute of Health to help put a more innovative spin on the class, Engelhardt said.

The students observe how physicians work and digest wish lists for tools that could improve their effectiveness, according to a Rutgers Today news release. The students then apply that knowledge to their senior design projects, developing technologies that meet practical needs.

“[It balanced] the work students were doing with the business side of biomedical engineering,” she said.

The students participating in the program are working with robotic simulations of surgeries and shadowing surgeons as they perform surgeries, Engelhardt said. While a surgeon is performing surgery, the students may recommend modifications to particular tools.

After students have submitted their project, the faculty nominates those who stand out to be a part of the program, said Francois Berthiaume, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“There are faculty who look at the scientific aspects of the project, but also faculty who are business oriented,” Berthiaume said. “[The project] has to be patentable, able to be commercialized and compatible with the market.”

The program is divided into two semesters, Engelhardt said. While the first semester consists of science courses, the second focuses intensely on the business aspect with classes regarding entrepreneurship, patent analysis, intellectual property and other business concepts.

“I see these kids come in as regular engineering students, but by the end they are pitching their products better than the MBA students,” Engelhardt said.

Colin Kosinski, a professional research manager at Rutgers, said while it is definitely beneficial to watch surgeons perform surgeries, the business aspect is equally important.

“I didn’t know much about patents but it was really important,” Kosinski, a School of Engineering graduate, said. “We may have all the technical knowledge but we need help if we plan on making a business out of our inventions.”

In only a year, the program has grown from a handful of physicians to more than 25, lending their time and expertise to the education of Rutgers students, Engelhardt said.

Next year, the program is expected to grow, she said. It plans to include students’ ideas as well as projects.

“I wish all engineering departments had something similar,” Engelhardt said. “Nothing can replace the contextualization of the knowledge the students learn in the classroom.”

Engelhardt said the students have come up with technologies to reduce the fat in livers before they are transplanted, applications to diagnose attention deficit disorder and implantable, self-powered defibrillators.

“The students love the experience. They get excited to go into the operating room and see surgeries being performed. They are in complete clinical immersion,” Berthiaume said.

By Gabriela Monje

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