Hannah-Forbes Fund Supports 50 Senior Projects … And Counting

July 01, 2013

Contact: Kristen O'Halloran-Cardinal
BMED
805-756-2675
kohallor@calpoly.edu

Senior projects represent Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing heartbeat, and athe Hannah-Forbes Fund is a measure of the Biomedical Engineering Department's healthy pulse. Over a span of just three years, the fund has supported 50 projects and 77 students with a series of mini-grants.

Senior projects represent Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing heartbeat, and athe Hannah-Forbes Fund is a measure of the Biomedical Engineering Department's healthy pulse. Over a span of just three years, the fund has supported 50 projects and 77 students with a series of mini-grants.

Hannah-Forbes Fund Supports 50 Senior Projects … And Counting

“One of Cal Poly’s real strengths is its senior projects program,” said Jo Ellen Hose, who together with her husband Jim Hannah and their neighbor Bert Forbes, established the fund in 2010.

“I teach engineering physiology and cardiovascular pathology in the department,” said Hose. “In addition, I have a ‘non-majors’ biology class in the College of Science and Mathematics, where, consistently, my best students are biomedical engineering students. I really enjoy them because they’re thinkers. They try to understand things. Memorizing facts is not the way they learn, and I appreciate their learning style.

“A little over two years ago quite a few biomedical students went through my biology class, and I heard they didn’t have enough funding to do a senior project. That’s when I saw the need. I thought, ‘They’re engineers, and a paper project isn’t what an engineer should be doing.’ When I told Jim about the situation he said, ‘Guess it’s time to invest in people’ — that’s what he likes to do — and we soon found that Bert felt the same way.

“Bert is such a can-do engineer. He manages to do things on every level from fix-it stuff to the grand visionary level. It’s not just his own business that he’s made into a real success — he wants others to succeed, too. He likes to provide seed money, then have a project take on a life of its own.

“Perhaps the fact that my husband and I are both pathologists — Jim’s an M.D. and I’m a Ph.D. — contributes to our interest in the program. We like to support hard science efforts, and we really believe in research — but we know it’s expensive.

“In addition, Jim and I, and our children, too, have had the privilege of attending colleges that value investigation and require senior projects. We know from our own experience that the senior project is more valuable than anything else you do in school — and we wanted to do everything possible to make sure the students get the best experience from it.

“Another reason that I wanted to support senior projects is my experience as a faculty advisor for the diabetes club on campus. Its members are mostly students with Type 1 diabetes, and they’re ready for a cure. The science is so close to either having a great mechanical solution in the form of an insulin pump, or, in 10 years or so, to replace pancreatic cells to totally cure diabetes. These members’ dedication to finding a cure is unstoppable. They love to fundraise, but not for national organizations — they want to see what it’s being used for. That’s why I’ve required a portion of the Hannah-Forbes Fund be used for diabetes-related projects.”

Hose was delighted with a diabetes-related project that was presented at the recent college-wide Project Expo.

“The students — Victoria Lim and Graham Witherby — developed an anesthetic-tipped needle device for children, who typically get multiple shots a day as part of receiving insulin injections or checking their blood sugar. Fear or dread of needles can be an issue at any age, but it’s especially serious if your child has Type 1 diabetes.”

Another project this year — a biomaterials study by graduate students Nick Hudson and Sean Youra that involved a new electrospinning fabrication technique — reflects the new and growing field of tissue engineering.

“Cal Poly is an active contributor in the field,” said Kristen O'Halloran Cardinal, associate professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department. “Our students are so industry-minded that companies use our tissue engineering program as a device-testing platform.”

“In tissue engineering, some students are blood vessel creators, and some — like us — build scaffolds,” said Youra. “We use tubes as scaffolding for blood vessels, and the polymers we use to create a scaffold are very expensive – $200 for five grams. Without funding, our project wouldn’t have happened.”

 “The whole world in tissue engineering is opening up,” said Hudson. “We believe this is the future — where all our skills will be used for doing good. It’s an experience that would not have been possible without Professor Hose and Dr. Hannah, who funded the project this year, and I think our work will be translatable to any career path.

“What made this project so interesting,” continued Hudson, “was knowing that we were potentially contributing some fairly substantial work to a newly emerging field. Our project was very involved, to say the least — but then again not too many undergraduates get their hands on this kind of opportunity.

“The Hannah-Forbes Fund functions like a mini-grant, and students may qualify for up to $500,” noted Hose. “But they must apply for the grant, write a proposal and provide a follow-up report. Each of those steps is good practice for their future careers.” 

“What some people may not realize,” noted Cardinal, who runs the funding program, “is that contributing to the Hannah-Forbes Fund isn’t limited to Jim, Jo Ellen or Bert — anyone may donate to this fund. And especially for new donors or for a few dollars, it’s an ideal place to make a difference right away. When it comes to senior projects, a small investment can have a big impact.”

“These projects — along with so many others — are wonderful examples of how putting a little money into the system can reap big rewards — for students, industry and our future,” agreed Hose.

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Photo: A new electrospinning fabrication technique was used in a recent research study by biomedical engineering graduate students Nick Hudson and Sean Youra. Their project was supported by Jim Hannah and Jo Ellen Hose through the Hannah-Forbes Fund.