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UW-Eau Claire to offer new biomedical engineering, public health programs

| Julie Poquette

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents today approved two new academic programs at UW-Eau Claire: a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering, and a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health.

Both new programs complement UW-Eau Claire’s existing program array and meet demonstrated demand by students and in the state and national job markets.

"The BME program will complement UW-Eau Claire’s current degree programs in the sciences and mathematics, including its existing Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering," said Patricia A. Kleine, UW-Eau Claire provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. "Likewise, the addition of the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health complements our existing health-related majors and will attract additional students seeking health-related careers."

In both the biomedical engineering and public health programs, students will live what they study in the classroom through experiential learning opportunities including research with faculty, internships and community-engaged service.

“Research opportunities for students in these programs will be enhanced by UW-Eau Claire’s collaborative research agreement with Mayo Clinic Health System,” Kleine said. “Our biomedical engineering and public health students will have unparalleled opportunities for direct clinical research experiences working with UW-Eau Claire faculty and Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists, as well as for the completion of capstone projects and internships with governmental, non-governmental and private organizations in our region.”

Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering

The BME, which will be offered starting in fall 2021, is a 128-credit program that can be completed in four years by a full-time student. The curriculum emphasizes the engineering, design, use and manufacture of biocompatible materials and devices such as stents, sutures, drug delivery systems, prosthetics and implants.

The BME program will have its academic home in UW-Eau Claire’s materials science and engineering unit. In addition to already-existing courses in engineering and supporting science and mathematics courses, the program will include five new specialized courses that will be phased into the curriculum. By the end of the program’s fifth year, it is expected that 87 students will be enrolled in the BME program and 45 students will have graduated with the Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering degree.

“The BME degree at UW-Eau Claire will equip more UW System graduates to help address the increasing demand for biomedical solutions and to serve the healthcare needs of an aging U.S. population,” said Dr. Marc McEllistrem, professor and director of materials science and engineering programs.

The BME at UW-Eau Claire is just the third biomedical engineering program in the UW System (the others being offered at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison), the only such program at a state public regional university, and the only such program north and west of Madison.

“Our BME program will fill a significant geographic and programming gap for students who wish to pursue the degree in the northwest region of the state and within the more intimate structure of a comprehensive university focused on undergraduate education,” McEllistrem said.

There is significant interest in the biomedical engineering degree among both prospective and current UW-Eau Claire students, McEllistrem said. College Board data from 2018 showed biomedical engineering was specifically identified as a possible major by more than 10% of students from Wisconsin, Minnesota and northern Illinois who took the AP science/math exam and indicated an interest in engineering. In addition, in a spring 2019 email survey of current UW-Eau Claire students enrolled in STEM and health-care-related programs, 120 of the 355 respondents indicated that they would have likely pursued the BME degree if it were offered.

The BME program will help fill a projected need for biomedical engineers in Wisconsin and across the nation. According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the number of biomedical engineering jobs is expected to grow by 12.1% from 2016 to 2026. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 7.2% growth in biomedical engineering positions during the same period.

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health

The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health program will be offered starting in fall 2020. The 120-credit program can be completed in four years by a full-time student and includes credits for a complementary second program (a certificate, minor or second major).

The new interdisciplinary major in public health will equip students with the knowledge and skills to understand the distribution and determinants of human health and disease and to develop interventions that preserve and promote health and well-being. Program graduates will be prepared for entry-level public health careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors as well as graduate-level study. By the end of the fifth year of the public health bachelor’s degree program, it is expected that approximately 105 students will be enrolled in and 29 students will have graduated from the program.

The bachelor’s degree program in public health will be housed in UW-Eau Claire’s Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies, which also offers a well-established major in environmental public health and a recently launched and quickly growing public health minor, among other programs.

“In the Watershed Institute, we have demonstrated experience administering interdisciplinary programs that study the health and sustainability of human and ecological communities," said Dr. Karen Mumford, associate professor and director of the Watershed Institute. “The new, more broad-based public health major will round out our offerings, complementing the existing environmental public health degree with its more specific focus.”

Although several UW System institutions offer programs related to public health, none have offerings comparable to the new UW-Eau Claire public health degree program, Mumford said.

“This new program will prepare students to approach public health issues through the broad lens of social, economic, cultural, health and environmental conditions in addition to policies at the global, national, state and local levels,” Mumford said. “It provides a distinctly different pathway for students to prepare for and contribute to the field of public health and other health-related disciplines.”

Strong student demand exists for the bachelor’s degree program in public health at UW-Eau Claire, where interest in health-related majors has been growing and there has been high enrollment in the university’s new public health minor during its first year. Employment prospects for public health majors are promising. Between 2014 and 2024, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development projects growth rates in occupations for public health graduates to range from 9.4% to 40.4%.

Top photo caption: UW-Eau Claire students participate in an environmental public health lab class. The university's program array in the areas of public health and engineering has expanded with the approval of two new academic programs: a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering, and a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health.