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Innovation in the Field

Preparing Students for the “Real World”

Rich Goldberg is faculty member in the Biomedical Engineering Department. He works with students in the major to develop custom devices for people with disabilities. The following Interview with Rich took place in July 2017.

How long have you been teaching at Carolina?
For 20 years.

What factors led to your decision to be a professor?
For my first three years of graduate school, I was a teaching assistant for a class in which students learned how to design and build simple biomedical instruments. My favorite part was the hands-on work in the lab. It was a lot of hours but also gratifying and fun! At the time, I thought that my “dream job” would be to get to do this as a career. Today, most of the classes that I teach are hands-on and involve designing and building biomedical instruments.

The liberal arts degree prepares students by building capacities (oral communication, quantitative literacy, etc.) that they can use throughout their career, which is likely to change many times in a lifetime. What are one or two capacities you teach?
In my classes, I emphasize the development of professional skills that our students will need for their careers. Most of my classes include group projects. While the group work can sometimes result in conflicts between members, this happens in the “real world” too, and it is a valuable experience for the students to navigate through these challenges. Each project culminates in an oral or poster presentation of their work, as well as a final report. When possible, I also give students feedback on successive drafts of their work. This results in a final draft that is more polished and professional.

“Most of my classes include group projects. While the group work can sometimes result in conflicts between members, this happens in the “real world” too, and it is a valuable experience for the students to navigate through these challenges.”

We are seeing the college place a great deal of value on interdisciplinary courses. Do you teach an interdisciplinary course?
For 20 years, I have taught an APPLES service learning class in which students develop custom assistive technology for people with disabilities. Students collaborate with health care professionals and a local client to develop a custom device that helps the client to become more independent. UNC students in Allied Health also collaborate with the BME students. Examples of recent projects include an adaptation for a drummer with a spinal cord injury, which enables him to access the foot pedal of a bass drum using his forearms; a bowling aid for children with disabilities in their adaptive Physical Education classes at school; and a foam compression collar for patients in the UNC Jaycees Burn Center.

It is gratifying to teach this class because I get to watch students using their engineering skills to make an impact on the local community. I also enjoy the opportunity to foster collaborations between engineering students and other professionals, including occupational and physical therapists, medical doctors, special education teachers, and more.

The BeAM makerspace is integral to our program. All Biomedical Engineering students receive training to use the BeAM facilities, and they use it extensively for my classes and for fun. Some of the BeAM staff members are also students in our program.

Tell us about a challenge or failure in your teaching.
My biggest challenge right now is how to adapt to the growing size of our program. I am still figuring out the best way to help a class of 60+ students to understand what can often be difficult, technical material. Last year, knowing that many students often gathered for lunch before or after class near our classroom, I joined them on a regular basis. This gave me an opportunity to get to know them better, and to get feedback on how things were going in my class.

Our faculty do a great deal of teaching/mentoring outside the classroom. What is this like for you?
Some students in our program excel at theoretical concepts or modeling, some excel at hands-on fabrication and design, and some at both. I enjoy mentoring students to help them leverage their strengths and navigate through their challenges. It is gratifying to hear back from alumni years later and learn how they found success in their careers.

If you had unlimited funds, time, TA support etc. what would you do to one of your courses in the next few years and why?
I would like to make my larger classes feel smaller. This could be done with more lab sections and smaller numbers of students in each one. I would also like to have optional recitation sections in which students could work in small groups on problem-solving.

See a video that includes Rich Goldberg and his students that design custom devices for people with disabilities here:

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