By Alexis Schlindwein, COMM ’13
Marquette’s Biomedical Engineering Society chapter igniting local students’ passion for STEM
For many high school students, the thought of choosing a college and major can be daunting. Particularly in fields like engineering where students generally have little exposure to the field during school, young students often aren’t aware of the opportunities that await.
“As I was growing up, I was fortunate to have many great mentors and role models in my life who encouraged me to pursue engineering at Marquette,” Engineering Senior Efraín Torres said. “But unfortunately, many students — particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds — don’t even consider engineering because they don’t know an engineer or haven’t learned about it in school.”
Students from the Marquette chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society want to change that — they’ve made it their mission to bring engineering to middle and high school students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, race or access to technology.
In 2016, Torres, biomedical engineering major, coordinated a trip back to his hometown of Chicago to visit his junior high alma mater, St. Agnes of Bohemia. He and his fellow BMES members led a “mini boot camp” to teach middle school students about heart physiology, electronics and computer programming. The opportunity gave students a hands-on experience with different biomedical technologies, such as an Arduino-based electrocardiogram on which they could watch their own heartbeats.
“We believe that when students are given the access to produce a STEM project with their hands, they’ll be more involved and engaged while feeling empowered to pursue college majors in these fields,” said Natalie Waltz, BMES member and a junior in biomedical engineering.
From there, BMES’ community outreach opportunities continued to grow. During the 2016–17 academic year, they facilitated the mini boot camp at five inner-city Milwaukee schools for approximately 100 students. Last year, BMES expanded the concept into a successful multi-week program at the Milwaukee Academy of Science. They’re currently running the boot camp for students at the Hmong American Peace Academy.
BMES students have also used the popular hackathon-style competitions to welcome high school students to Marquette’s campus for a series of design challenges.
“Whether we’re in local schools or the students are here on campus, I think the interaction is the most important part,” Torres said. “Our outreach programs give these students a chance to learn about engineering and the college experience, and most importantly, it shows them the possibilities that come from education. They, too, can become engineers.”
The efforts of BMES have not gone unnoticed. For the past two years BMES has been awarded the Spirit of Marquette Award, which is given to the student organization that has most exemplified the university’s mission through its service to the Marquette and Milwaukee communities. Additionally, four students attended the national BMES Annual Meeting this past October to share their boot camp model with biomedical engineers from across the country.
“I like to remind our students that we can all make a difference, and the best way to do so is by empowering others to someday do the same,” said Dr. Kristina Ropella, Opus Dean of the Opus College of Engineering. “Our BMES students are doing just that – sharing their talents to inspire future generations of engineers that will go on to solve our world’s problems.”