Biomedical Engineering Design Shop closes indefinitely

The door to the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design Shop, located in the basement of the U.A. Whitaker Building, remains locked indefinitely with a notice of its closure posted on the window. // Photo by Anjali Patel Student Publications

Several organizations across Tech’s campus have united through a  petition advocating for a single cause: reopening the Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design Shop. The petition created by Anam Muhammad, Director of Outreach for the Medical Robotics Club, on Aug. 9, 2023 has called for the Institute’s BME department to reopen the doors to its design shop, which is used by several clubs, organizations and startups across Tech’s campus. 

The BME Design Shop was a space that served as a place for BME students to receive assistance or feedback on designs and manufacturing for the medical device development process. 

“It’s a small but useful space with 3D printers, laser cutters, a mill and many more machines,” said Muhammad.

Students across BME-related organizations admired the shop for its unique aspects, such as earned after-hours access, direct hands-on faculty coaching and support for innovation beyond the classroom. Professional networking opportunities, intellectual property guidance and patenting coaching are also key resources that the shop offers. Beyond the intellectual insight provided by the shop, many students found a community and friendship within the shop. 

“There were also many other students there at midnight as well and you’d make friends; it was nice getting to talk to each other from maker to maker,” said Shyam Pillai, another one of the Directors of Outreach for the Medical Robotics club.

Students from various organizations, such as the Medical Robotics Club, Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and Engineering World Health Club (EWH) benefited from the BME Design shop. Multiple startups and corporate companies use the equipment in the shop as well, which allows students to make connections
in related job fields. 

“That was a great opportunity to connect with startups, find jobs and internships, and they’ve made that harder
on us,” Pillai said. 

The BME Design shop closed its doors during the summer of 2023 when Marty Jacobson, the previous faculty advisor for the Design Shop, vacated his position. The shop supported more than 2000 students across BME, Jacobson’s SOLIDWORKS course and multiple Create-X projects. 

When the shop opened in 2010, there were more than 10 requests for training a month, but by January of 2023, there were 200+ requests. Since 2017, the demand for more hands-on training in the shop has grown exponentially with no support from the BME department to keep up with maintenance of the shop or ensure its safety. Within the year 2022, over 500 training sessions were completed in the shop by Jacobson as well as several student trainers. 

While Jacobson’s departure ultimately led the shop to close, the lack of any full-time paid staff and the failure to meet growing student demand was what truly led the doors of the shop to close. Jacobson had initially closed the shop for February 2023, citing burnout and maintenance tasks. After years of unanswered challenges and upon receiving an offer for another campus role, Jacobson shifted his attention to maintaining shop safety until his departure.

“That was one of the reasons [Jacobson] left. Because he felt like he wasn’t being heard,” Muhammad said.

Jacobson has remained a mentor and coach for BME students through their fight to reopen the shop. 

“I am confident that the desire of the BME faculty is to answer student needs with meaningful experiences that will support their drive to build valuable engineering design skills,” said Jacobson. 

Students across BME organizations and clubs felt in early summer that their voices were not being heard, prompting them to create the petition. 

“I don’t think they [the BME department] understand how valuable this space is to us,” Pillai said.

Since its publication on Aug. 9, 2023, the petition has gathered 558 signatures as of Aug. 28, 2023. 

The objective, as written in the petition, is to “urge the BME department to reconsider its choice and work towards finding a solution that allows the BME Design Shop to safely reopen its doors.” 

The writers of the petition also propose that the BME department collaborates with students and allocates funds from the budget to hire full-time faculty for the shop. 

“We want to show that this impacts companies and other students,” Muhammad said, referring to the petition.

The creators of the petition are yet to reach an agreement with the Institute about allocating funds or collaboration with students but they hope that the petition spreads awareness to their cause. 

“It felt like we weren’t being listened to. That could be something really dangerous to other departments in the same situation as us,” Muhammad said.