Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009
SECONDARY MAJOR IN BIOENGINEERING A FIRST FOR K-STATE'S COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING
MANHATTAN -- Designing the next generation of pacemakers, making drugs more effective or developing better biofuels are all tasks that wouldn't happen without the help of engineers. But not all engineers know living systems inside and out.
To meet a growing need for engineers with a biological background, Kansas State University's College of Engineering recently launched a secondary major in bioengineering -- and already has its first graduate in the program. At K-State, a secondary major is one that is completed in tandem with a primary course of study. The university currently offers seven other secondary majors.
"There is no question as to the ever-increasing importance of biotechnology and the biological sciences to today's society," said John Schlup, a K-State professor of chemical engineering who is overseeing the secondary major. "More and more, engineers from a variety of disciplines find themselves collaborating on interdisciplinary projects with extensive biological components."
The new secondary major requires course work across at least three departments, which Schlup said will promote interdisciplinary experiences and prepare students for the work that awaits them upon graduation.
"Graduate programs in biomedical engineering might be found in any of several different departments, such as chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering, but with the expanding role of biotechnology and the life sciences in today's world, engineering departments across the nation have established undergraduate options in biological engineering," Schlup said.
Because of the breadth of problems that can be solved using engineering concepts, he said, the new secondary major is intentionally broad and students will likely find their own specialty within it. For example, an engineering student preparing for medical school will take courses far different from one studying how to engineer a sustainable house.
The secondary major won't supplant other bio-focused programs on campus, but will give undergraduates an option to apply the basic engineering skills they're learning to biological systems. It also will give students a better way to communicate their educational background in an ever-competitive job market, Schlup said.