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Nurturing tomorrow's bioengineering leaders

July 24, 2009

Another successful International Biocomplexity Summer School was completed this year under the leadership of faculty and staff members of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The program attracts applications from almost 200 top undergraduate and graduate students each year for the opportunity to gather for a week at Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. There students are taught by leading experts in biocomplexity from around the world.  About 30 students are selected each year, including typically three to five Arizona State University students.
Inaugurated by the National Science Foundation director in 2001, the summer school’s founding chair is Metin Akay, an ASU professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering.  It’s now sponsored by school, the NSF and the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

With students selected for their exceptional academic and research credentials, the summer school’s purpose is to help develop “tomorrow’s leaders in science, engineering and medicine,” Akay said. “It has become a premier educational forum” in health care, biomedical engineering and science.

Yasemin Akay, a research professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, also has been instrumental in developing the summer school. She is the international director for the program.

Tomi Ellison, business operations manager for the school, is the coordinator of the summer program.

Biocomplexity is the study of complex structures and behaviors that arise from interactions of active biological and physiological systems or agents, which may range in scale from molecules to cells to organisms. In addition to science curriculum, the summer program emphasizes social and cultural training that teaches students how to collaborate internationally.
Christina Hobson, a bioengineering major in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, participated in the 2008 summer school.  She says the program “was a life-changing experience that expanded my horizons and shaped my views on the importance of international exchange.  It was the perfect balance between cultural discovery and intellectual journey. The faculty challenged students to be leaders and to drive change."

Another participant was Kadie Gavan, former president of the ASU chapter of the Society for Women Engineers who graduated this year with a bioengineering degree.
The program "exceeded my expectation beyond belief,” Gavan says. “I gained an immense amount of experience in personal relationships, cultural awareness and professional and academic knowledge.  In addition to the classes and networking, I learned about a foreign country and its history.  I have been changed for the better for going [to the summer school]."
After this year’s program, Ellison was honored recently with an outstanding service award for her work as coordinator.
“Her dedication to the summer school is very much appreciated," Metin Akay says.  “She has been instrumental to its success and was integral to facilitating communications during the 2008 and 2009 summer schools,” he says, noting that Ellison learned the Turkish language to do the job.

“She was involved in communications with the facilities' staff to ensure appropriate accommodations and menu needs,” he said. “She also was the students' first line of contact to ensure that they functioned optimally during the lectures and social functions."

Before moving to Bogazici University in 2007, the summer school had been at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. since its inception in 2001. Metin Akay was an associate professor in Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering at the time, and worked to develop the summer program from its inception.