2007-2008

WPI Ranked No. 2 in Nation in Percentage of Biomedical Engineering Degrees Awarded to Women


WPI has been ranked number two in the nation for the percentage of bachelor degrees in biomedical engineering that are awarded to women. The honor was announced by the American Society of Engineering Education in its October 2007 edition of "Prism" magazine.

WORCESTER, Mass. – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been ranked number two in the nation for the percentage of bachelor degrees in biomedical engineering (BME) that are awarded to women. The honor was announced by the American Society of Engineering Education in its October 2007 edition of Prism magazine. In 2006 (the year the rankings are based on), WPI awarded 56.8 percent of biomedical engineering degrees to female graduates.

"It's incredibly gratifying that WPI's BME program has been ranked number two in the nation for awarding bachelor of science degrees to women," said Associate Professor Yitzhak Mendelson, interim head of WPI's Department of Biomedical Engineering. "WPI is fortunate to have engaged the minds and talents of so many women in this specialty."

A total of 83 female biomedical engineering majors make up the 186 undergraduate students enrolled in WPI's Biomedical Engineering Department, which began as a graduate program within the Electrical Engineering Department in 1962. The program's strong growth during the 1980s, the addition of new faculty, and a substantial increase in research funding resulted in the formal creation of a graduate-level Department of Biomedical Engineering in 1988. With the increasing interest of undergraduate students toward a career in biomedical engineering, an undergraduate program was added to the department in 1996. Support for this new undergraduate program came from both WPI and a Special Opportunity Award from The Whitaker Foundation.

WPI's biomedical engineering program and affiliations extend beyond the borders of the university's campus. WPI has cooperative programs with the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Mass., and the Colleges of the Worcester Consortium. Some of the department's faculty are also involved with the WPI Bioengineering Institute (BEI) at Gateway Park, which is focused on creating close working relationships between academic scientists and engineers and medical technology companies to create new biomedical products in novel, low cost ways. In contrast to the BME department, the BEI does not offer academic degrees or courses on the undergraduate or graduate level but does offer a Medical Device Management Certificate Program.

Biomedical is the fastest growing engineering field, having increased 187 percent since 1999, according to the ASEE. Meanwhile, the percentage of engineering degrees awarded to women declined for the fourth consecutive year in 2005-06. The 19.3 percent of engineering degrees awarded is far below the women’s general representation of 56 percent in the undergraduate ranks.

"Biomedical engineering is a relatively new discipline focused on the application of engineering principles to the solution of problems in biology and medicine for the purpose of enhancing health care," said Mendelson. "Generally, students choose this field in order to be of service to people, the excitement of working with living systems, and the ability to apply advanced technology to solve complex problems in the life sciences.

"Worldwide," he continued, "the overall growth in the field is attributed in part to the rapid rise in the aging population as well as the sharp increase in the demand for advanced medical technology to improve healthcare. One of the most attractive aspects of biomedical engineering is the opportunity to combine engineering and the life sciences in a creative way."

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute topped the list at 60 percent, followed by WPI at 56.8 percent. Other colleges on the list included North Carolina State University (54.3 percent), University of Illinois-Chicago (52.3 percent), Case Western Reserve University (52.1 percent), Brown University (50 percent) and University of Tennessee (50 percent).

About Gateway Park

Gateway Park is a joint venture of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC). Located in Worcester, near the intersection of I-190 and I-290, Gateway Park is designed as an 11 acre, mixed-use destination for life sciences and biotech companies and the people who work for them. The project includes: five life sciences buildings totaling 500,000 square feet of flexible, adaptable lab space designed to meet the needs of research organizations, 241,000 sq. ft. of market rate, loft condominiums as well as several planned retail establishments. WPI is also exploring the possibility of graduate student housing on one of the sites. Gateway Park is part of the larger 55-acre Gateway redevelopment district. It is currently home to numerous businesses, offices, restaurants, and business services, as well as a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

November 9, 2007

Contact: Lorraine U. Martinelle, Public Relations Specialist, +1-508-831-6425, lurbans@wpi.edu Eileen Brangan Mell, Director of Public Relations, +1-508-831-6785, ebmell@wpi.edu