TTU Nursing, engineering students collaborate on health care problems

Engineers rarely put hospital gowns on patients and nurses rarely design prototypes. A course focused on innovation in health care at Tennessee Tech University is bucking both trends.

Chemical engineering and nursing students will work together to introduce each group to the basics of the other’s discipline. From there, they will together identify problems and design ways to solve them.

“The goal is through this shared immersion, the students in the course will say, ‘We could really change patient outcomes if we change this procedure or this device,’” said Melissa Geist, nursing professor and dean of the College of Interdisciplinary Studies. “Then they do it.”

Geist and chemical engineering faculty member Robby Sanders have been talking about starting a collaborative course for several years. The course is being funded through the university’s quality enhancement plan program and a $25,000 faculty grant from VentureWell, a non-profit organization focused on promoting innovation in higher education. VentureWell funded 14 percent of more than 111 faculty grant applications.

The funding will be used to purchase additional equipment for the Innovation and Discovery Learning Institute, a makerspace in the iCube at the Angelo & Jennette Volpe Library, as well as to help develop student-team-based innovations. The makerspace will allow students to use cutting-edge technology and hardward to build and test prototypes. The iCube also offers virtual reality technology so students and faculty can visualize prototypes and demonstrate course concepts.

During the course, Sanders and Geist will be exploring how the students work together and generate ideas. The students will be divided up into three interdisciplinary teams who will work together in discipline-specific labs and clinical immersion experiences.

“At the end of the course, we expect there will be designs or rudimentary prototypes from the teams that either they or subsequent teams can push forward as Entrepreneurial Teams with business and industry mentors that we have identified with help from the BizFoundry,” said Sanders. “We want to push the abilities of these teams, and we want to see the student teams’ ideas transformed into products with impact.”

By the end of the semester, the engineering and nursing students will be able to work with business students to continue developing their idea into a business in another interdisciplinary course focused on writing business plans and bringing ideas to market. The course ends with the university’s Golden Impact Competition, which focuses on developing solutions to health care problems.

“These courses and the competition are about the impact, the possibilities of what can be done educationally and in the business world,” said Ann Davis, assistant professor of accounting. “The students start out with an idea, then layer on the business knowledge of competitors and the possibility of production. We think and hope that this can change these students’ world.”

Photo Caption:

Chemical engineering student Luce Crim works on a patient simulator in one of Tennessee Tech University’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing labs with help from nursing student Melissa Paris. The two are part of a course designed to bring students from the two disciplines together to find and solve common heath care problems.