Evolving the Classroom

As an SBME instructor, Dr. Usprech is working to investigate and deploy teaching strategies that promote knowledge retention, critical thinking, problem-solving and classroom wellness. One of her key interests is incorporating cellular/tissue engineering design—an area typically reserved for graduate study—into the undergraduate curriculum so that students can get a head start on this aspect of the field.

The opportunity to experiment and implement changes like this, as well as the potential of the program, is what drew Dr. Usprech to the SBME. “The school had rolled out a new undergraduate program that incorporated cutting-edge science and engineering with a lot of new curriculum. There was just so much positive energy and excitement around the SBME and I felt that I could really fit in well and contribute to growing the program.”

And contribute she has. Dr. Usprech leads classes like engineering design (BMEG 357) while developing a new lab course in cellular engineering (BMEG 374), a new course related to professionalism and ethics (BMEG 455) and a new graduate course covering scientific communication. So far, these classes have ranged in size from 20 to 60 students, and as the cohort grows, so too will those numbers.

At the SBME, teaching is more than just helping students build their knowledge and skills. We want them to help redefine what it means to be a Biomedical Engineer. “A Biomedical Engineer doesn’t seek to solely understand biological concepts,” says Dr. Usprech. “Rather they tap into their foundational knowledge of biology to creatively solve problems that directly impact human health.”

This mindset is key to the biomedical engineering field and it starts in the classroom with the implementation of new and proven pedagogy that inspires students to go further. “I want to empower students to push themselves, to dig deeper, to justify their decisions, to think creatively, and to continually investigate and analyze the topics that interest them,” she says. “These qualities and skills are so important for engineering professionals as they all feed into lifelong learning.”

Connecting Across Disciplines

Working in the SBME has allowed Dr. Usprech to connect with individuals in many departments spanning different faculties like Applied Science and Medicine and UBC Science. This is a direct result of the cross-appointment of many SBME Faculty as well as subject overlap. “I knew that these connections would be possible, but I think I underestimated just how well connected I could become, because of the SBME, this early in my career,” says Dr. Usprech. As she continues to contribute to the BMEG program, Dr. Usprech is also helping to create the culture of the SBME. “I’ve noticed that everyone in the SBME is receptive to new ideas. There are a lot of new faculty and staff joining and it feels like a lot of great creative energy.” And as she points out, this culture extends to the students. “I’m so impressed by our trailblazing cohort of BMEG students, they are so bright and driven. They really inspire me.”

The mark of a good teacher is the lasting impression they’ve made on their students. To drive that point home, Dr. Usprech concludes: “I hope to have a lasting positive impact in two main ways. How I helped students develop practical skills that map directly to their future careers; and how well I performed as a resource for them in both their success and wellbeing.”