How can we impart the excitement of biomedical engineering to our freshmen from the moment they step on campus? We have found great success with “Modeling and Design” an innovative, required course which engages our students as biomedical engineers from their first day at Johns Hopkins. Small groups, guided by upperclassmen lab managers, teaching assistants, and faculty, work through five modules including modeling human efficiency, the arm, and the cardiovascular system, as well as a foam core design project. By the conclusion of the fifth module, an independent modeling project, 96% of the students appreciate the value of working in teams to tackle complex challenges. They have become adept at developing and testing their hypotheses, and presenting their results through written lab reports and oral presentations. By the end of the semester, 84% of freshmen “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the course had met its goal of providing a solid introduction to modeling physiological systems, academic and career mentoring, exposure to research and design opportunities available at Johns Hopkins, and a concrete basis for a career choice in BME. More importantly, the course helps set up our students for long-term academic success, as indicated by a 94% freshmen/sophomore retention rate. Developing a mathematical model to describe a physiological system is a new concept for freshmen. For each project, the freshmen are provided with a one page background summary with just enough information to get started. Experimental testing of the mathematical model is an essential component of the learning process, and allows the students to collect data and perform a statistical analysis of their model. At first, the process of making assumptions, writing equations, developing an experimental protocol to test the model, and analyzing the results is daunting. By the final independent project, 88% of students felt exploring their own topic was an “excellent” or “good” learning experience and valued presenting their results at a final poster session. Not only do the freshmen benefit from the course, but the upperclassmen lab managers believe they have gained valuable leadership and professional skills, such as providing constructive feedback and public speaking.
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