New Biomedical Engineering Department Approved

Cullen College of Engineering Officials Cite Rapid Growth in Job Opportunities, Potential to Recruit Premier Faculty

In economically uncertain times, college students must be strategic when choosing career paths, and biomedical engineering is one of the safest bets as demand for new medical devices and techniques increases and job growth follows suit. At the University of Houston, a new biomedical engineering department is being launched to both develop that highly skilled work force and drive discovery.

Creation of the department, the first added to the Cullen College of Engineering in more than 35 years, is among several university-wide initiatives that will raise the research institution to top-tier status, according to UH President Renu Khator, because it will attract talented faculty members and students.

"This is precisely the kind of strategic move we must make to bring the University of Houston to national prominence," Khator said. "Creation of this new department builds on our presence in the Texas Medical Center and our decades-long collaborations with institutions there."

The Higher Education Coordinating Board's approval of the department this month could not have come at a better time, said Dean Joseph W. Tedesco, who said the department could begin operation as early as spring 2009.

"Biomedical is one of the fastest-growing disciplines in engineering," Tedesco said. "If we are going to be a nationally competitive engineering program, we must have a strong, well-funded program in the biomedical sciences. Launching a biomedical engineering department will allow us to recruit prolific researchers and attract top-notch students."

The department is an outgrowth of the college's longstanding biomedical engineering program, which has been housed for more than three decades in the department of mechanical engineering.  It has offered a master's degree since its inception, and it has offered a bachelor's degree since 2003.

Demand for the bachelor's degree has more than quadrupled over the past five years, said Fritz Claydon, the college's associate dean for research and administration. That trend is in line with U.S. Department of Labor projections, which indicate the number of biomedical engineering jobs will increase by 20 percent through 2016.

The Labor Department has attributed the rapid increase in biomedical engineering jobs in part to the United States' aging baby boomer population and the rising demand for better medical devices and systems.

Still pending before the coordinating board is a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering, which, upon approval, could become effective as early as fall 2009, officials said.

Claydon said a national search already is under way for a founding department chair, who will be instrumental in adding as many as 10 faculty members over the next five years.

In the meantime, more than a dozen existing engineering and life science faculty members are already directly involved in biomedical engineering research, and many have longstanding collaborative partnerships with physicians at the Texas Heart Institute and The Methodist Hospital.

Such activities, Claydon said, support and advance an already strong health-care sector in Houston, home to the world-renowned Texas Medical Center.

While the existing biomedical engineering program focuses on biosensing and bioanalytics, the addition of new faculty members, courses and a doctoral degree will expand its vision, said Matthew Franchek, chair of the college's department of mechanical engineering and director of the biomedical engineering program. The department curriculum will include studies on gene, tissue and neuro engineering as well as biodevices, biosensors and proteomics and protein therapies.

"I'm very happy to see it grow into a department," said Franchek, noting that collaborations by faculty members across disciplines long before biomedical engineering gained popularity helped to make the department possible. "This has been a 20-year ambition. It took a lot of selfless people - a ‘we' environment - to make this happen."

The department is to be housed in the Science and Engineering Research and Classroom Complex, Claydon said.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities.  UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students.  

About the Cullen College of Engineering
The Cullen College of Engineering at UH has produced five U.S. astronauts, 10 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top 10 nationally.  With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering.  It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.   
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