Women Engineering Deans: Dr. Barbara Boyan, Virginia Commonwealth
Meet Dr Barbara Boyan – Dean at Virginia Commonwealth’s School of Engineering
Dr. Barbara Boyan is Professor and the William H. and Alice T. Goodwin Chair in Biomedical Engineering and Dean, School of Engineering at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. In addition, she is professor emerita in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Boyan directs the Virginia branch of the FDA-sponsored Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium. She is a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and in the American Institute of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering (AIMBE) and in 2012 she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering and was inducted into the Fellows of the World Congress of Biomaterials. She was appointed to the National Materials Advisory Board of the National Research Council of the National Academies and chaired their Roundtable on Biomedical Engineering Materials and Applications from 2008 to 2011. She has founded a number of biomedical technology companies and currently serves on the Boards of both public and private companies. The author of more than 400 peer-reviewed papers, reviews, and book chapters, Dr. Boyan holds 15 U.S. patents.
1. Why are engineers integral to the American economy and infrastructure? What would happen without them?
Engineers are the problem solvers of American industry and infrastructure. They tackle problems by reducing the issues to their component parts, and then develop solutions using first principles. This approach is used when inventing new technologies to address specific needs and when addressing problems in manufacturing products, building bridges and highways, or ensuring security of the internet. Engineers do work that is fundamental to our economy at every level.
2. Do you believe modern engineers are more important to technological innovation or infrastructure? Why?
I don’t think that the contribution of engineers is more important to one area of our economy over another. Their role is so fundamental to how things work, that it is impossible to ascribe value in this way. While technological innovation may not be driven by engineers in all cases, it is engineers that make things work, who can translate an idea into a usable product. My own experience as an inventor is a good example of this. Early in my scientific career, I began to think about how to make materials that would help cartilage defects heal more effectively. I thought that technologies available at that time lacked properties that would encourage cartilage cells to do their job better and one of those properties was a mechanical environment similar to what they would have in real cartilage. I discussed this with a mechanical engineer, Dr. Kyriacos Athanasiou, who told me that he could figure out how to make such a material. Together we began a start-up company that went on to manufacture the innovative implants that we designed. We recognized that patients and surgeons would want the assurance that the implants were made safely and dependably, so that they could rely on the final product to be the same every time. This was most definitely the work of many different kinds of engineers, each responsible for a specific piece of the puzzle. I am very proud to say that the device we first envisioned is now available for use in patients because of the careful work of engineers.
3. How has the job market changed through the Great Recession for the engineering sector?
As is the case with many aspects of our economy, the kinds of jobs have changed with time. A solid training in an engineering discipline positions people well to meet these kinds of challenges. More positions are available with engineers who have expertise in computer programming, but recently I have noticed a upsurge in interest in engineers who have expertise in all aspects of manufacturing, including industrial engineering.
4. Which engineering disciplines are most in demand in the market?
Mechanical, electrical and computer engineering and computer science are in high demand, but chemical engineers are still needed and there is a growing need for biomedical engineers. Right now, it is good to be an engineer, particularly if one has had international experience.
5. Which engineering careers do most students move into?
Students with engineering degrees have opportunities in a variety of fields, not just traditional engineering. Many students go on to earn MBA’s as they move into business. Others pursue law school, medical and dental school, and of course graduate school. For those that enter the working world after graduation, most join companies that do different kinds of manufacturing or software design.
6. Why do you think high school students should study engineering?
Engineering is demanding, but it is one of the best ways to get a solid education that can lead to a job right after school and is a spring board for further advancement.
7. What does Virginia Commonwealth University specialize in in regards to engineering?
VCU provides engineering education in biomedical engineering, chemical and life sciences engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical and nuclear engineering. Because we are a sister school of VCU’s School of Medicine and School of Dentistry, our students have the opportunity to develop engineering skills that have application to the growing health care industry. Our Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering program is one of only two in the nation and is highly regarded for its research activities related to power and energy.
8. Why should students apply to Virginia Commonwealth University?
VCU is an exciting place to be. We have one of the most diverse student bodies in the Commonwealth and our faculty value undergraduate education. Our students are able to be involved in cutting edge research from the beginning of their freshman year. I cannot imagine a better experience than is available in our School of Engineering.