From left, ECU students Brandon Gordon, Walter Snead and Patrick Williams work on a robot as part of a class in the renamed College of Engineering and Technology. The new name reflects the growth of engineering at ECU.
Engineering, biomedical program poised for collaboration, service to region
ECU has been building a workforce of teachers, nurses, artists and doctors for decades. Add another fast-growing group to the list of professionals that ECU sends out to serve the region: engineers.
The rapid expansion of ECU’s 10-year-old engineering program has earned it a step up in academic standing. The UNC Board of Governors on April 11 approved renaming the College of Technology and Computer Science to the College of Engineering and Technology. The change had the unanimous support of other engineering programs in North Carolina’s public university system.
“One of East Carolina’s primary goals is to serve as a national model for regional transformation. Having a more prominent College of Engineering and Technology lets ECU be the center of influence for technically driven improvements in our region,” said ECU biomedical engineering student Amos Cao of Greensboro.
A new master’s degree in biomedical engineering within the college also was approved. Biomedical engineering integrates science with biology and medicine to solve clinical problems. The program includes collaboration with ECU Division of Health Sciences faculty.
Cao’s classmate, Megha Sinha, has been developing a non- invasive diagnosis and monitoring protocol for pulmonary hypertension. It’s important work for the region and state, which has some of the highest cardiovascular disease mortality rates in the country, Cao said.
Another research project has included faculty from the College of Nursing in helping to design a monitoring device for hospital patients’ movement to prevent bedsores, said Barbara Muller-Borer, associate professor of engineering.
“Any equipment you interface with at a hospital or doctor’s office, biomedical engineers are involved,” she said.
Adding a master’s degree in biomedical engineering is a good fit for ECU because of its affiliation with health sciences. The graduate program will build on the growing undergraduate program, where students have conducted multidisciplinary research with faculty in dental, physiology, pathology, communication sciences and disorders and nursing, Muller-Borer said.
As part of Cao’s capstone project, he and three other biomedical engineering students worked with ECU faculty member Dr. Bryan Dangott in the Brody School of Medicine Department of Pathology in a yearlong process to develop a computer-based system to improve the accuracy of breast cancer diagnostics.
Biomedical engineers are involved in the development of many types of medical procedures and devices, such as prosthesis, pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, dialysis machines and MRI imaging systems. They also are involved in biomedical research and the development of biomaterials, bioelectronics and biomechanics, ranging from tissue generation to bioengineering blood vessels and organs, Muller-Borer said.
Started in 2010, biomedical engineering is the second largest concentration in the engineering department. Jobs in the sector are expected to grow by 27 percent in the next 10 years.
Several seniors plan to apply to the first master’s degree program at ECU, Muller-Borer said. About 50 percent of undergraduate students are going out of state to graduate programs, and officials hope to keep some of the students here at ECU. They plan to offer an integrated bachelor and master of science in biomedical engineering beginning in 2015 so students can start on graduate work their senior year, she said.
“One thing I’ve pointed out is that ECU is the only university in the UNC system with a medical school, a dental school, a business school and now a College of Engineering,” Muller-Borer said. “That is a real big strength for our program. That’s where our students will get their experience.”
The new name reflects the growth of ECU’s engineering department—from 37 students in 2004 to 521 in 2013. Students can choose from five possible concentrations: biomedical engineering, bioprocess engineering, electrical engineering, industrial and systems engineering and mechanical engineering.
Cao also hopes the name change will increase visibility for a discipline that some people are unaware ECU offers. The university said it plans to eventually double engineering enrollment to 1,000 students.
ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology has close to 2,000 students in four departments: engineering, computer science, technology systems and construction management.
— Crystal Baity