LeAnn Dourte, Practice Associate Professor in Bioengineering, has been awarded a 2023 Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence by Non-Standing Faculty.
“This award reflects LeAnn’s innovation and dedication in teaching our students in Bioengineering’s biomechanics, biomaterials and biomechatronics classes and labs,” says Ravi Radhakrishnan, Professor and Chair of Bioengineering. “She is a core member of our teaching faculty, spearheading the Department’s initiatives to improve experiential learning and classroom experiences through the SAIL model of education.”
The Structured, Active, In-Class Learning (or SAIL) model of education emphasizes teamwork and dynamic problem-solving. According to Penn’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), SAIL “provides students with the opportunity to struggle through the application of course ideas and material, often the most difficult part of learning for students, with guidance from instructors as well as help from their peers.”
In addition to her pedagogical interests, Dourte serves on the Bioengineering Climate Committee and is also highly involved in student wellness programming, serving as the Department’s Wellness Ambassador for the School.
The Provost’s Awards for Teaching Excellence by Non-Standing Faculty were established in 1988.
Lamis Elsawah graduated with a B.S.E. in Bioengineering with a concentration in Medical Devices in 2019. She is currently a Design Engineer at Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Synthes. We caught up with Lamis to hear about why she chose Penn Bioengineering and what she enjoyed about the curriculum.
“Penn had been my dream school for years prior to even applying to college, so their having a top notch bioengineering program was icing on the cake when it was time for me to apply. Prior to applying, I actually had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Meaney (who was the Bioengineering Department Chair up until I graduated) the summer before my senior year in high school and he was always a constant support throughout my bioengineering education up until graduation. Since Bioengineering had less than 100 students per class, it really allowed us to develop that familial feel with our core Bioengineering professors and lab staff. I honestly don’t think I would have survived junior and senior year without the help of Sevile and the entire lab staff, so I will be forever grateful.
I always like to say that junior year labs are really what made me an engineer. Those were some of the most challenging classes I took, but it was really rewarding once I reached the end. Between those lab courses and Biomechatronics taught by Professor Dourte, it prepared me to become a design engineer and apply all that I had learned. I also had the opportunity to get my minor in Engineering Entrepreneurship and be taught by Professor Cassel, which increased my interest in the business side of developing medical devices. The combination of my studies ultimately led me to Imperial College, London where I received my Master’s in Medical Device Design and Entrepreneurship.
The bioengineering curriculum at Penn allowed me to have a vast knowledge of the field that I will always be grateful for. It not only provided me with the mechanical experience, but also the electrical and biological background. I plan on staying an active alumna in both the Engineering Alumni Society and the Penn Alumni Board as a result of my wonderful experience at Penn Engineering and Penn as a whole.”
This post is part of BE’s Alumni Spotlight series. Read more testimonies from BE Alumni on the BE website.
Almost every engineering school in the country offers a course in mechatronics — the overlap of mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering in electromechanical system design — but how many offer a course in biomechatronics? Taught by LeAnn Dourte, Ph.D., a Practice Associate Professor in Bioengineering, Penn Engineering’s Biomechatronics course (BE 570) gives students the chance to think about how the principles of mechatronic design can be used in biological settings involving orthopaedics, cardiovascular systems, and respiration, to name a few.
Throughout the course, students engage in different projects related to circuitry, signal processing, mechanics, motors, and analog controls, eventually applying all of these to biological examples before working on a final culminating project in design teams of two. In a simulation meant to mimic the sort of thinking and design processes that go behind innovations in robotic surgery, students create an electromechanical device that acts as a robotic hand. The catch? The “hand” has to have enough dexterity to pick up a water bead with a slipperiness similar to that of human tissue.
In addition to successfully performing this mechanical task using skills that the students learned throughout the semester, design teams also have to incorporate biological interfaces into the final project, such as using EMG signals to move part of the robotic hand, to give one example. Furthermore, each team needs to have a unique element to their design, whether in the use of a second biological interface, the application of Bluetooth to the system, or even a physical extension of the robotic hand to include the electromechanical equivalents of a shoulder, elbow, or wrist joint.
Students Carolyn Godone and Mike Furr (both M.S.E. in Bioengineering ‘19) created a design inspired by the mechanical iris of a camera lens, using gears to push 3-D printed slices together in a symmetrical pattern to close around an object for pickup. They controlled their unique gripper with a thermal sensing camera that could employ a heat map of the device’s user to rotate, raise, and lower the gripper. Another pair of students, Omar Abdoun (BE M.D./Ph.D. student) and Andrew Chan (M.S.E. in Robotics ‘19), made what they called a “cryogripper”: a tissue moistened with water that freezes on demand when it contacts its target hydrogel. The ice allows the target to be lifted without falling, and the tissue can later be thawed with pumps of warm water to release hydrogel.
The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania would like to congratulate LeAnn Dourte, Ph.D. on her recent promotion to Practice Associate Professor. Formerly a Senior Lecturer, this promotion reflects Dr. Dourte’s innovative approaches to pedagogy since arriving at Penn in 2011. The title of Practice Associate Professor reflects exceptional accomplishment in teaching, leadership, and educational programs. As an official member of the faculty, this formalizes Dourte’s role as a leader in pedagogy and educational scholarship, furthering empowering her to think creatively and progressively about higher education.
As a key member of the BE teaching faculty, Dourte has regularly taught core undergraduate subjects such as Intro to Biomechanics (BE 200) and Biomaterials (BE 220) as well as popular graduate electives Biomechanics and Biotransport (BE 510) and Biomechatronics (BE 570). In particular, she spearheaded the department’s initiative to improve classroom and learning experiences through experimentation with the Structured, Active, In-Class Learning (or SAIL) model of education which emphasizes teamwork and dynamic problem-solving. Dourte worked with the Center for Teaching and Learning to understand this model and assess how it would best be applicable for BE students, and then presented her findings at national conferences and to the BE faculty, helping to introduce them to these techniques and advise them on best practices. Other BE faculty such as Chris Fang-Yen, Ph.D., Jennifer Philips-Cremins, Ph.D., and Danielle Bassett, Ph.D., have experimented with and incorporated these ideas into their courses. Thanks to Dourte’s efforts, BE has been integral in demonstrating the success of SAIL classes to the School of Engineering and then spreading this philosophy to other schools at Penn. In addition to her pedagogical interests, Dourte is also highly involved in the Department’s student wellness initiative, serving on the Department’s Climate Committee and as the Wellness Ambassador.
Now that she has achieved this latest milestone, Dourte has set her sights on goals for the future. She intends to work with Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Dr. Russ Composto to strengthen initiatives to assist SEAS’s First-Generation, Low-Income (FGLI) students. She will be working with Dr. Bassett, who specializes in network science, to learn more about how students learn, and what tools can be developed to assess students in addition to traditional exams and homework; to tell more easily when students are missing key concepts; and to intervene sooner in moments of crisis. And finally, Dourte will also be one of three representatives from Penn at an upcoming national education summit this May to discuss the future of Bioengineering curricula.
“Our best educators are teachers for the rest of the faculty, as well as the students,” says Department Chair Dr. David Meaney. “We are enormously proud of the prestige and expertise that LeAnn shares with all of us. I was fortunate to teach biomechanics with LeAnn for many years, and saw her outstanding ability as an educator in person.”
Once again, we would like to extend hearty congratulations to Dr. Dourte on this well-deserved recognition of her leadership and both in and out of the classroom.
This interview with Dr. LeAnn Dourte is a collaboration between Double Shelix and the University of Pennsylvania Department of Bioengineering! Thanks to Kayla and Sally for conducingt this interview! If there’s someone else at UPenn BioE (or elsewhere!) that you think they should feature, let them know!