“We Serve,” The Biomedical Engineering School Drexel University’s New Program

The Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems School has implemented “We Serve,” the school’s newest program that focuses on community outreach for students majoring in biomedical engineering.

The program provides an opportunity for biomedical engineering students to go to partnering non-profits, interact with the patients, use what they know in the classroom and apply it to assess the needs of the patients and design a solution that will benefit them.

Though the BME School is still developing many parts of the “We Serve” program, some of the partnering non-profits have already been put in place and include The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Ronald McDonald House, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

Director of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health, professor Banu Onaral said she felt the need for this program for BME students.

“We had not emphasized how [biomedical engineering] emphases humanity,” Onaral said. “Biomedical Engineers are the perfect people to serve global, urban health. [We needed] to move from the lab to people.”

Since the “We Serve” program is still not in its final form and many things are not yet set in stone, a definitive structure of the program is still up in the air. However, the BME School hopes that in full form, the program will act as a sub-curriculum where students have the option to participate. Some of the guidelines that BME School would like to put in place are having the students take courses, work with a partnering non-profit, create and perfect a design that would benefit the people in the non-profit and accumulate the right number of credits to graduate with a certification for “We Serve” that will accompany their degree.

A subset of “We Serve” is “We Serve Africa,” which will focus on what BME can do to help the healthcare of countries in Africa.

One of the students helping develop this program is Alexa Karkenny, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering. Karkenny volunteered in Costa Rica by teaching English and helping establish a library.

“I lot of students contacted [me] asking for help because they were interested in what [I] did,” Karkenny said. “It’s sometimes hard to know everything and establish contacts. This program will help students who want to help people.”

Karkenny and Onaral talked during the summer about Karkenny’s time in Costa Rica. In December, Karkenny and another Drexel student will travel to Mozambique, Africa to assess the needs of the country and brainstorm ideas to develop a co-op that could be offered there.

They also hope to develop a course regarding the varying technologies of different countries, Karkenny said.

Other plans “We Serve Africa” has for the future include seminars in which ambassadors from different countries will speak at Drexel about their country and its healthcare.

This will help “students … be more inspired,” she said.

Associate Director for Undergraduate Education, professor Fred Allen feels that both the “We Serve” and “We Serve Africa” programs will be well received by the BME students.

“One thing that is clear to me in working with BME students is that many of them choose this major because [of] their want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Allen said. “As I tell them in my classes, at some point in their lives they will achieve that understanding that the world is not about us, it is about preparing a way for our next generations. We hope that this program will enhance the educational experience that our students have through service learning and will give them alternative avenues of career options in non-profit and/or policy-developing organizations.”

“In the future, we would very much like to see the other people adopt the program and for ‘We Serve’ to grow to be a university wide program,” Onaral said.

In the upcoming future, the “We Serve” program hopes to have more seminars in which their partnering non-profits can discuss their perspective on the needs of the people they help. The “We Serve” program will be in full force next September.

Article By Anisha Madappa