St. Joseph’s Academy students learn about bioengineering from LSU assistant professor

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Jemma Wood, Evelyn Carley and Anna Miller were the overall winners of the Bioengineering 101 project.

Nearly 60 students from St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge participated in a six-day Bioengineering 101 program to learn about the cancer, bioengineering and engineering design processes.

LSU Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Adam Melvin, who has previously mentored SJA students in his lab, instructed the program and partnered with SJA Chemistry Honors teacher Rhonda Baird to divide her three classes of juniors and seniors into 19 groups, each with two or three students.

Melvin taught the groups at different times over a six-day period, and he began by explaining what engineering is, what engineers do and how engineers solve problems before laying the groundwork for a design challenge in which students were tasked with building model cancer trappers. Melvin also discussed cancer metastasis, circulating tumor cells and how engineers can help doctors.

“The idea of this program is to teach the students about several aspects of engineering design and introduce them to a variety of things that bioengineers can do,” Melvin said. “They are then responsible for designing, building and testing their own systems and collecting data to measure how well it works.”

Students dedicated time during their lunch periods and after school to improve their designs and collect more data, Melvin said.

Each group presented the projects on the final day of the program to a panel of nine SJA teachers who served as judges. Each class period had a winning group, and there was an overall group winner.

“As I walked around the room and saw the different designs, it was amazing because no two were exactly the same,” Baird said. “They weren’t all successful but to hear them say, ‘Ok, next time we can do it that way,’ was a very gratifying experience.”

Period one winners were Amelia Lambert and Claire Fourroux; period two winners were Carsyn Smith and Ava Kadi; and period five winners, who were also the overall winners, were Jemma Wood, Evelyn Carley and Anna Miller.

Melvin said some students told him they want to be bioengineers now, and he said he was impressed by how engaged the students were throughout the program.

“Many of these young students are excited about biology and how it can be used to tackle big-picture problems like human health, energy and the environment,” Melvin said. “If we can get these girls excited and interested in engineering and they can pick a college that is best for them, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

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