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Dr. Mike McShane, department head, and symposium speakers in front of a Texas A&M University banner.
Biomedical engineering hosted a variety of special guest speakers to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Back row, left to right: Dr. Ryan Shelton, Dr. Ashok Gowda, Jeff Summers, Stanton Rowe, Dr. Mike McShane (department head) and Dr. Lihong Wang. Front row, left to right: Dr. Susan Margulies, Dr. Rita Patterson and Diane Dailey. | Image: Courtesy of the Department of Biomedical Engineering
The Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University celebrated its 50th anniversary with on-campus activities in October. The two-day event began with a symposium that highlighted the department’s growth and success. Presenters included three members of the National Academy of Engineering, former students and members of the department’s advisory board. The symposium was followed by an awards banquet and open house with a tailgate before an Aggie football game.

“As one of the oldest biomedical engineering programs in the country, we have a long track record of student success,” said Dr. Mike McShane, department head and James J. Cain Professor II. “This student success has led to a current enrollment of nearly 500 undergrad students, not including freshmen, and more than 170 graduate students. This past May, we graduated our 3,000th student.”

Founded in 1972, the department has grown to be one of the largest in the country. With 27 tenure-track faculty and 20 academic-professional-track faculty, it provides a learning experience that prepares students for success. The department is also a leader in research and has three National Academy members among its faculty. It is the lead institution for a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center and has increased research spending to more than $17 million per year.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the department invited six leading industry professionals to speak about their experiences and how the department is an integral part of the biomedical engineering community. The speakers have leveraged their relationships with the department to propel their success in both personal and professional realms.

Diane Dailey ’05: Human health in space

Diane Dailey graduated from Texas A&M in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Upon graduation, she accepted an offer to work for NASA in its Life Sciences Support Systems group, where she supported 10 space shuttle missions and led the group for NASA Expedition 22. After transitioning to NASA’s Integration and System Engineering group, Dailey served as a lead flight controller. In 2021, Dailey was selected to be a flight director for the International Space Station.

“I came to Texas A&M to study biomedical engineering because I knew that human spaceflight was my passion,” she said. “The ultimate question is, what does it look like to put humans into a capsule and get them safely to the space station? You might think that’s a problem for an aerospace engineer or a computer engineer, but the human is the common element in everything we do. The human must be able to survive and respond in the different environments.”

Dailey’s work revolves around keeping the astronauts and cosmonauts in the International Space Station healthy and able to return to life on Earth successfully after their mission concludes. Success in her role means overcoming numerous challenges that biomedical engineers are prepared to face.

“It’s exciting because biomedical engineering is really the key to facing those challenges,” Dailey said. “It will help take us further into the galaxy and further into the solar system than we’ve ever gone before.”

Ashok Gowda ’98: Health care entrepreneurship

Dr. Ashok Gowda earned his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering from Texas A&M in 2002. Since then, he has served as founder and CEO of numerous medical technology startup companies. Upon graduation, he immediately founded BioTex Inc., a medical technology developer and manufacturer. Gowda also founded Visualase Inc., which focuses on the use of lasers to treat brain tumors and epilepsy. The company was acquired in 2014 for $105 million.

“What drives me today is the impact that medical devices can have on human beings,” Gowda said. “The fact that we can make this impact in an entrepreneurial way is an added benefit.”

Gowda attributed his success as a biomedical entrepreneur to how the department prepared him for the real world.

“Thank you to Texas A&M for doing what you do for these biomedical engineers and for inspiring them the way you inspired me,” he said.

Stanton Rowe: Cardiovascular engineering

Stan Rowe is a member of the Biomedical Engineering Advisory Board. In that role, he provides feedback and guidance on department curriculum and initiatives as they relate to industry needs. For 15 years, Rowe served as the chief scientific officer and corporate vice president of Edwards Lifesciences, a global leader in creating innovations to treat structural heart disease and provide critical care monitoring. He now serves as CEO of NXT Biomedical, where he assists medical device manufacturing startup companies by providing direction on how to navigate the industry.

“What does your life mean?” Rowe asked the students in attendance. “What are you going to do with this education that Texas A&M has provided you? As biomedical engineers, we have the privilege of being able to improve patients’ lives. It’s a great honor, and I hope you put your passion and education to work on their behalf.”

Ryan Shelton ’12: Imaging and low-cost health care

Dr. Ryan Shelton, who was awarded his doctoral degree in 2012, is the CEO and founder of PhotoniCare. The startup medical technology company is translating light-based therapies into objective medical treatments using imaging systems for the middle ear. Shelton has built optical imaging systems for more than 20 years and managed engineering teams for 15. The lessons he learned during his graduate work at Texas A&M have helped him to successfully lead the company.

“There were five non-academic takeaways from my time at Texas A&M,” Shelton said. “Learn how to figure stuff out, know when it’s time to ask for help, learn how to tell a story, work hard but know your priorities and realize that relationships are the most precious currency.”

Rita Patterson ’86: Clinical and patient-based research

Dr. Rita Patterson serves as the dean for research at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and is a professor at the University of North Texas Health Center. She received her master’s degree from the bioengineering program at Texas A&M, the precursor to the department, in 1986. Since then, Patterson’s research has focused on orthopedic applications of bioengineering. In her current role, she has been tasked with integrating the use of new technologies into the classroom.

“I think COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of new technology,” Patterson said. “I think we’re in a perfect place to get new technologies into clinics and in use by consumers.”

Patterson’s motivation to continue in research and education comes from her desire to impact the lives of people who face debilitating health issues.

“Never forget who your consumers are,” she said. “They’re the physicians, the nurses, the patients, the caregivers, the hospitals and the community. Don’t forget about public health and all the consumers that you’re trying to meet the needs of.”

Jeff Summers ’96: Medical device manufacturing

Jeff Summers is a 1996 graduate of the bioengineering program at Texas A&M and serves as a member of the Biomedical Engineering Advisory Board. He has worked for Quest Medical Inc. for more than 20 years and was promoted to president in 2019. Summers is a champion of the department and has hired dozens of graduates and sponsored numerous capstone teams. Throughout his career, he has seen a growing demand for biomedical engineers.

“A decade ago, there was a prediction that we’d need more engineers,” Summers said. “That prediction is not only true, but it’s been accelerated by what’s happened in the last few years. Texas A&M biomedical engineering is uniquely positioned to meet this need because all the puzzle pieces are sitting within miles of our campus.”

In his role as a member of the Biomedical Engineering Advisory Board, Summers helps the department remain on the cutting edge of modern biomedical technology.

“With changes on the horizon, we, as biomedical engineers, can be influencers for the next generation of medical technology manufacturing,” Summers said.

After 50 years of service, the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M is prepared for changes on the horizon. Through academic research, education, entrepreneurship and innovation, the department will continue to meet the needs of the biomedical industry.

For more information about the department’s 50th anniversary celebration, please visit the department’s anniversary celebration webpage.