Weekend commencement to feature UF department's first undergraduates
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Correction: The College of Engineering will give out its undergraduate degrees at 7 p.m. Saturday. An earlier version of this article had an incorrect day of the week.
Complete schedule online
For a complete schedule of the 2014 Spring Commencement ceremonies, go to this UF website.
Being the first group in a new academic program is daunting, said Amanda Eifert, one of 17 undergraduates who will be the first to receive bachelor's degrees from the University of Florida Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“It's very exciting to be a part of a brand-new degree program, but there were a lot of unforeseen difficulties with the classes,” Eifert said. Faculty still were trying to figure out how to format the classes, and some classes were taught by other departments.
It all worked out in the end, Eifert said, and she's glad she was part of it.
“I hope our experiences will help improve the program for future students,” she said.
Eifert will receive her bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering this weekend, one of nearly 7,700 expected to participate in one of the 16 graduation ceremonies this weekend at UF.
Almost 10,000 students are scheduled to graduate this semester from the University of Florida, with an estimated 7,628 expected to participate in one of the 16 graduation ceremonies conducted this weekend.
In a message posted to graduates on the commencement Web page, UF President Bernie Machen said, “Your commencement ceremony celebrates your hard work and achievement in completing a demanding and rigorous course of study at a great public research university.”
The ceremonies begin at 4 p.m. Friday with eight colleges bestowing master's and specialist degrees in one ceremony at the O'Connell Center. Bachelor's degrees will be given out at several ceremonies Saturday and Sunday.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is so big that it split its bachelor's degree graduation into two ceremonies on Sunday.
The College of Engineering will give out its undergraduate degrees at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“This is exciting, very exciting,” said Christine Schmidt, who became chairman of the biomedical engineering department in January 2013, after the inaugural class finished its first semester in the program. “Not often do you have an inaugural class.”
It takes a special type of student to be the first in a new program, she said. “I like to think of this group as having to be bold by nature. They're an adventurous group,” she said. “It takes a certain personality to be willing to embrace something they know nothing about and give us a chance.”
Most of the biomedical engineering graduates will go on to graduate school. Three are going to medical school, and several will enter the workplace.
Two graduates — Aline Yonezawa and Philip Vu — received National Science Foundation graduate fellowships, Schmidt said.
“I'm very happy where they are ending up,” said Hans van Oostrom, associate chairman of the biomedical engineering department and its chief student adviser. “They are going to do great things with their lives, and I am sure we will hear more from these students later.”
Vu will go to the University of Michigan, and Yonezawa will attend Georgia Tech — both top schools in biomedical engineering.
The program at Georgia Tech was a perfect fit for her interests, Yonezawa said. “I really like medicine and science, but also the engineering way of thinking,” she said.
Yonezawa began her research career in high school, then did research her freshman year at UF. She got an internship to Rice University, and a second one at the University of California, Berkeley.
Those combined experiences helped her formulate the idea she wanted to pitch to the National Science Foundation when she applied for her fellowship — a 3D print of heart valve tissue that can regenerate on its own.
“I hope to one day either be a professor doing research, regenerating heart tissue,” she said. “Or I'd like to be with a startup company, or a company that is researching how to regenerate an entire heart.”
The 20 students who started the inaugural class in 2012 had to apply in the spring of their sophomore year. The ones who don't graduate this spring will graduate either in summer or fall.
The process was designed to keep the first several classes intentionally small to accommodate the limited number of faculty, class space and resources available at the time, Schmidt said.
“Because of the nature of the work we do, we had to limit the students admitted,” Schmidt said. “As a result, they have to be the absolute best students to get into the program.”
The goal is to expand the incoming students to 70 over the next few years.
UF has placed a priority on expanding the program as part of its push to pre-eminence, granting Schmidt five new faculty positions that will cost $850,000 in salaries. Another $750,000 has been earmarked for lab equipment to give students hands-on experience seeing real problems and needs, brainstorming to come up with solutions, testing those solutions and developing prototypes.
“This department is on an incredible trajectory,” Schmidt said. “This is just the beginning of what there is to come. There is no reason this department shouldn't be among the elite programs.”
The Department of Biomedical Engineering at UF started in 1998 offering only graduate degrees. Bruce Wheeler, a professor in the biomedical engineering department who helped write the proposal creating the program, said having an undergraduate program completes the picture.
“The growth of this program is a significant addition to the university,” he said. It helps it advance its goal of pre-eminence because most of the elite universities in the nation already have an undergraduate program.
“We were a little late, but we're here,” Wheeler said.
What sets UF's biomedical engineering department apart from the 100 or so others across the country is that it is co-located with the medical school, Van Oostrom said.
Demand for the program is high, both here and nationwide, he said.
“We can see from freshman admissions,” Van Oostrom said. “We had over 400 admissions for the coming fall term who were admitted to UF who had selected biomedical engineering as their major.”
Eifert said she plans to stay at UF for another year to finish her master's degree in biomedical engineering.
“I think we have a great graduate program already,” Eifert said. “With the added benefits of my undergraduate training I think I am well-prepared for next year, when I'll start looking for a career in orthopedic implants and instrumentation.”