Inclusive ASU engineering community nurtures success
Fulton Schools students can get join a variety of Fulton Student Organizations to match their interests, meet new friends and build valuable skills. Learn more.
The popular image of the lone genius scientist and engineer means many people are unaware that engineering actually relies on teams working together. For Michael D’Saachs, a biomedical engineering graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, the social side of engineering has been his focus since he came to ASU.
“Engineering itself is a team sport,” D’Saachs says. “You’re hardly ever doing anything on your own. Even in industry you’re not going to solve an engineering problem by yourself; it’s going to be a team of engineers doing it.”
D’Saachs and other students in the Fulton Schools have many opportunities to seek out welcoming communities while expanding their engineering skills. One of these ways is through student organizations such as the Biomedical Engineering Society chapter at ASU, known as BMES.
The student organization regularly holds group events such as general body meetings with guest speakers representing a diverse range of clinical, research and industry positions. BMES also hosts social, entrepreneurship, high school outreach and professional development events.
BMES leaders encourage members to join competition teams and attend the BMES national conference. Through these activities, students gain access to experiences enabling them to become better engineers and meet their peers.
“I believe the students who engage with our organization are more connected with other students in the classroom and can leverage what they have learned with BMES to become leaders inside and outside of the classroom and make informed choices for their future success,” says Ashley Tse, president of BMES during the 2022–23 academic year.
Tse made it her mission as president to enhance collaboration among the organization’s leadership and increase the number of events the chapter hosts, which has led to a growth in membership and engagement.
Two leadership board members who contributed to the engagement efforts last year were D’Saachs, then the peer engagement director of BMES, and Louis Moon, BMES’s former mentorship director. Together with the rest of the leadership team, they helped fostered a collaborative community of engineers and supported student success.
Bringing people together
As a nontraditional student going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, D’Saachs’ college life started as a very isolating experience. He says people didn’t often engage with him during his time at community college, perhaps because he was an older student and different from his peers.
“That changed when I came to ASU,” says D’Saachs, who graduated in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the Fulton Schools and is returning this fall to finish his master’s degree as part of ASU’s biomedical engineering Accelerated Master’s degree program.
At ASU, he joined BMES and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. D’Saachs enjoyed the social aspects of BMES so much that when the opportunity arose to apply for the peer engagement director position, he decided to run for it.
D’Saachs drew upon his experience in community college getting his associate’s degree, his time in the military leading team-building exercises and his role as a parent encouraging his two sons to get involved in social activities to help him rebuild the organization’s in-person offerings as the pandemic eased.
He hosted board game nights, ice cream socials, pick-up volleyball and even put together a medical imaging art class with Benjamin Bartelle, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Fulton Schools. However, events like these are more than just fun and games, D’Saachs says.
He believes introducing students to each other early in their academic careers is important to improving the capstone project experience. The yearlong capstone project at ASU involves four or five seniors devising a solution to an engineering problem, applying all the skills they’ve learned throughout their degree programs.
When D’Saachs walked into his capstone class in the first semester of his senior year in the fall of 2022, he knew some of the students in his class, but there were others he had never met before.
He realized he could help make finding a capstone team easier for others by creating a way for them to learn about their peers’ engineering interests and project ideas early on in their academic career.
To accomplish this, he created an event called Capstone and Coffee where first-year and sophomore students could meet their peers and the capstone professors in an informal setting to learn more about this critical component of their major.
“My hope is that by bringing students together, they can engage and express what it is about biomedical engineering that they enjoy, and try to foster those relationships within biomedical engineering, and that gets them in a spot where they feel more comfortable down the road doing capstone,” D’Saachs says. “I hope I’m giving them something to help them in the future as well as allowing them to socialize.”
As a graduate student, D’Saachs will continue to participate in BMES as a member. He hopes attendees enjoyed the events he put on as peer engagement director and is confident that his successor, Camryn Sheen, will continue to grow these opportunities for BMES members.
No matter his role in the organization, D’Saachs wants people to enjoy their time as students and know that they’re not alone.
“If you come to a BMES event, you may not have the intention of talking to anybody, but I hope you leave saying I know this person now,” he says. “I like when I see our members exchanging contact information. It makes me think we’re succeeding at what we’re doing.”
Mentoring students for success
Engaging with junior and senior students in the major is also an opportunity for first-year and sophomore students to learn more about the possibilities in biomedical engineering.
Led by biomedical engineering junior Louis Moon in the 2022–23 academic year, the BMES mentorship program is another community-building opportunity students can participate in.
“I think mentorship is important because it’s almost impossible to know what you’re getting into when you start your degree,” Moon says. “It’s great to have someone who has gone through your academic path give you some guidance or an idea of that path.”
Moon didn’t have a mentor early in his academic career, preferring to learn by being part of a group. But he believes having a mentor could have better prepared him to organize his time during college and understand how much weight he should give each task for projects. His time as a tutor helped him realize he liked helping other students, which motivated him to become the BMES mentorship director.
Tse herself benefited from the BMES mentorship program in her first year at ASU. Through this opportunity, she participated in a group volunteer project with a nonprofit called Project C.U.R.E. to sort medical devices to be shipped to resource-constrained countries. There, she met Project C.U.R.E.’s internship coordinator and was able to get her first internship through the connection she made in the mentorship program.
Just as D’Saachs was challenged with rebuilding a sense of community coming out of the pandemic, Moon also worked to bring students together again with in-person mentorship program meetings alongside virtual ones.
He also added a new lab shadowing component to the mentorship program. This opportunity breaks down time and access barriers to allow students to learn what it’s like to work in a research lab from their peers and see experiments in action.
Moon is passionate about helping others learn about biomedical engineering and considers the mentorship program as a way for the organization to foster a “love of wisdom.”
“This community helps those who have this wisdom share it with those who want to learn it in a collaborative manner,” he says.
Moon is encouraged by the students who have advanced through the mentorship program and then apply for director positions within the organization. He is also motivated by others who have become more active members.
In the fall, he plans to continue to support and advise the mentorship program — which will be led by new mentorship director Cameron Knight — in his new role as vice president of BMES.
Building bigger and better communities in the new academic year
Under Naina Misra, a biomedical engineering junior who serves as the student organization’s president for the 2023–24 academic year, the BMES leadership team plans to continue expanding what the organization offers Fulton Schools students.
Sheen, a biomedical engineering sophomore taking over the peer engagement director role this year, is inspired by how D’Saachs used the position to engage the BMES community.
“As a freshman, the activities he planned were one of the main reasons I was able to integrate with people in biomedical engineering,” Sheen says. “My goal is to help create a strong community that can make people more comfortable and confident as well as aid them in their professional careers, which is exactly what I learned when I went to Mike’s peer engagement activities.”
She says BMES members can look forward to more of the engagement events D’Saachs helped develop, such as game nights and art activities with Bartelle. Sheen also plans to create new events to support peer engagement, such as biomedical engineering trivia nights and viewing parties for documentaries related to the major, such as The Bleeding Edge.
“I hope to follow in Mike’s footsteps and create a welcoming, strong community for members of the Biomedical Engineering Society,” she says.
Knight, a biomedical engineering sophomore and the new mentorship director, continues to expand upon activities like lab shadowing, which was a big success, and wants to enable more students to take part.
“This activity helps introduce undergraduate students to both wet and dry labs so they can gather knowledge on what is being done inside a lab,” he says. “This is very important as research labs play a big part in biomedical engineering and it can often be hard to gain access to a lab as an undergraduate student.”
Knight also plans to start a journal sharing activity in which postgraduates share their biomedical engineering journeys to help current students understand how they can use their degrees after graduation.
Including alumni in the mentorship pipeline is part of Knight’s strategy to improve community-building activities through increased participation from first-year students to professors and everyone in between.
Misra notes other exciting events and opportunities in the works for the year, including helping undergraduate students learn about advanced degree and research pathways from current graduate students and for all students to learn about entrepreneurship and founding new ventures in Arizona. She says BMES is also planning tours at biomedical research organizations such as Medtronic and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen, and forming a new Biomedical Engineering Design Team to compete in the Medtronic/BMES Student Design Competition at the national BMES Annual Meeting in 2024.
Misra, Sheen and Knight encourage all biomedical engineering students to join BMES, where they can find new friends and opportunities to network and be welcomed into a supportive, fun community.
“BMES is an organization that values community, inclusivity and involvement,” Misra says. “It is an amazing way for biomedical engineering students to learn about their field, discover their interests and gain an idea of their future impact. BMES was built by those interested in biomedical engineering for those interested in biomedical engineering, and I encourage everyone who wants to learn more and become involved to join.”