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Biomedical engineering program gives students the best of both worlds

The 2017 class of BME graduates. Photo courtesy of Sandy Henriquez.

What would happen if you took a nationally-ranked hospital system and school of medicine and combined it with one of the finest engineering programs in the nation? You would get the UNC/North Carolina State University Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, a unique partnership between the two universities that gives students access to a wealth of resources across both campuses.

“Biomedical Engineering is a wonderful program that has been at UNC for a long time,” said Sandy Henriquez, student services specialist for the department. “Basically if you look at any discipline in engineering — mechanical, civil, electrical — it is any of those applied to the body and medical applications.”

While the BME program has existed for many years, the partnership with NC State started in 2003 and the undergraduate degree was just accredited last year. Now students who are entered into the program will be counted as students of both UNC and NC State and will graduate with a degree from both universities.

“Students get IDs at the NC State campus, and like how students here have a PID, they get the NC State equivalent,” Henriquez said. “They can take classes at NC State if they want. Some of the specialized electives for Biomedical Engineering, because of our specialty and our faculty, are only offered at UNC or only offered at NC State.”

Even though some classes may only be offered at NC State, students will not be required to go to classes in Raleigh, Henriquez said. The curriculum and required courses are the same at both universities. This gives options for students that missed a chance to take a class only offered one semester on one campus by attending it on the other campus. 

“It doubles the faculty that they have access to,” said Naji Husseini, a lecturer in the BME department. “They can do research with more faculty members, they can have access to some of the facilities on each campus. For example, UNC students, since there is no engineering school over here, could go to an engineering career fair at NC State and have access to all of those engineering people.”

The partnership is unique in that it is an equal sharing of resources and faculty between the two universities. Both schools take 80 students per class, allow complete facilities access, and allow for students to do research on their campus with their faculty.

“The whole joint program is very unusual in the country,” Husseini said. “There are some programs that claim to be joint, a common one is Georgia Tech and Emory University, but there is not really a 50/50 sharing. It’s like me sharing with my younger brother when I was growing up. He could have a gummy worm, and I would take the rest of them, but here it is a joint everything.”

George Edwards is a sophomore BME major who picked the major due to its uniqueness.

“I’m interested in the medical field, and most other science fields as well, so I didn’t really want to commit to one or the other,” Edwards said. “I wanted to explore all areas and BME does a really great job of blending all the STEM fields together.”

Edwards said he enjoys the design aspects of the program. The hands-on learning opportunities give him a chance to apply all the new things he has been learning in class. It is also a fun change of pace from normal lectures, allowing him to be up on his feet collaborating with other students.

While he has not yet taken classes at NC State, he looks forward to accessing all the resources available to him.

“They are the true engineering school in the state,” Edwards said. “And although we have good resources here as well, it wouldn’t quite be the same without them. Over on the Centennial Campus they’ve got state-of-the-art equipment and very modern labs.”

With all the access to resources, faculty and opportunities as well as the hands-on learning and interesting topics, Edwards says he highly recommends the BME program to any students that may be interested.

“Biomedical engineering sounds a little scary to start,” he said. “But I would encourage people that are trying to get interested in BME to not shy away. No doubt it is difficult, but if you truly enjoy what you are doing then I would encourage them to pursue it."

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