Our goal is to give students the opportunity to not only learn the information, but also to understand what they can do with it, what its limits are, and how it can be adapted to create something.

Daniel Cavanagh

When Professor Daniel Cavanagh came to Bucknell in 1999, he was charged with spearheading design of its biomedical engineering major. There were only about 45 undergraduate biomedical engineering programs in the country then, and most were associated with sprawling research institutions. He started with a nearly blank slate to design a program steeped in excellence.

"The students came first," Cavanagh says. "Our goal was to provide every student with a baseline experience that was designed to be above the norm, from hands-on experience to research opportunities to connections with external groups."

Cavanagh holds the William C. & Gertrude B. Emmitt Memorial Chair in Biomedical Engineering, which helped fund development of the major and continues to provide opportunities for Cavanagh and undergraduates, including medical device design projects and summer internships in collaboration with Geisinger Health System in nearby Danville. Working with professors and Geisinger clinicians, students tackle real-world healthcare needs by designing medical device prototypes. That's where great ideas are born, says Cavanagh, who adds that some of the most exceptional have been refined over time and recognized with patents for their ingenuity.

"The goal is to have a deliverable prototype," Cavanagh says. "Each student leaves with that experience. And several promising projects can be continued in the summer medical device intern program with Geisinger or in faculty research efforts. While the primary goal is the students' experience in device design, we also want to be sure promising ideas and inventions are driven by the ultimate goal of improving patient care."

The Geisinger collaboration challenges students in authentic, hands-on settings crucial for learning to solve problems.

"A lot of students graduate with engineering degrees, but they don't have the opportunity to go into an interactive laboratory to apply those skills," he says. "Our goal is to give students the opportunity to not only learn the information, but also to understand what they can do with it, what its limits are, and how it can be adapted to create something."

Cavanagh says he wants his students to graduate with confidence in their problem-solving skills and a feeling of pride in what they earned.   

"I want students to realize that companies will hire them to solve problems," he says. "There are probably a million different answers to that problem. But they have to pick the one they're most confident in and go with it. You have to get students ready for that."

Posted Dec. 1, 2015

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