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Faculty approves minor in biomedical engineering

The MIT faculty has given unanimous approval to the Institute's first interdisciplinary minor degree-biomedical engineering. The action came at the April 19 meeting.

The new minor, available to students starting in the fall, will meet what surveys indicated was a demonstrated student need for a formal program in the field. Between 40 and 50 students are expected to be involved in the program each year.

The proposal arose from the Curriculum Committee of the Center for Biomedical Engineering, which will develop and supervise the new minor. Co-chairing the committee are Professor Linda Griffith Cima of chemical engineering, who gave the details of the program at the March meeting, and professor Alan J. Grodzinsky of EECS, mechanical engineering and HST. The proposal was held over to the April meeting for a vote.

The rapid increase in the number of undergraduates interested in bioengineering "and a sense that the undergraduate curriculum in this area could benefit from better integration among the different departments, including the biology department," were triggers for the proposal, according to background material presented in March.

The minor comprises four advanced subjects in biomedical engineering, two core subjects and two electives. These four subjects require significant preparation in both science and engineering, and the minor is therefore structured in the form of a science core and an engineering core. The cores serve as prerequisites.

"The minor is meant to give students an opportunity to apply engineering to something they really like," Professor Cima said in outlining the program. "It is an applied field and not meant to be a major."

The total number of subjects required for the minor is nine when all the prerequisites in the science and engineering cores are added. However, nearly all science and engineering majors now take two or three of these courses for their major, so the number becomes six or seven, Professor Cima said.

Many students have already been taking these subjects and satisfying the requirements for a minor, but they have not been able to receive credit for doing so because there was no formal program in the area.

"One of our motivations was to give such students formal recognition and outside visibility for their efforts," the backers of the new program said.

In other matters at the meeting, the faculty approved the motion of the Committee on Nominations which proposed Professor Leigh H. Royden of EAPS as associate chair of the faculty and Professor Samuel M. Allen of materials science and engineering as secretary. The committee also made nominations for members of several faculty committees, which also were accepted. There will be a vote on this motion at the next meeting.

There was considerable discussion of an experiment with intermediate grades-grades with plus/minus notations-that will run from this September until August 1998. A vote of the faculty approved the experiment, but several were opposed. A survey of faculty, completed last month, showed 59 percent of respondents in favor of plus/minus. Other respondents preferred a different system, but overall there was low support for the current system, said Professor Nigel H.M. Wilson, chairman of the Committee on Academic Performance.

During the experiment grades, with pluses and minuses would appear on internal reports but not on transcripts for external use. Grade point averages would continue to be based on the current grading system.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 26, 1995.

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