Cellular engineering, nanovesicles and implantable prosthetics are not subjects that come up often in the course of regular study at most high schools in California.
They are, however, the subject of many interesting conversations for students enrolled in a sort of school within a school at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High, which has an ongoing partnership with the Health Sciences Campus at USC.
The Engineering for Health Academy (EHA) was launched five years ago by the Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Engineering Research Center (BMES ERC) at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. For the last two years, the academy has been funded by the Good Neighbors Campaign, USC’s annual fundraising program that supports university-community partnerships.
The EHA students at Bravo High receive special science instruction in their first two years. Like most prep school students, they study chemistry and physiology, but each of their courses has an engineering component.
In their senior year, the students spend two hours each day in USC laboratories. Many of them work in labs on the HSC campus, while others prefer to conduct their experiments on the University Park campus.
Since many high school teachers don’t have extensive knowledge about biomedical engineering, the BMES ERC also supports the training of Bravo teachers who spend their summers at USC laboratories acquiring that requisite education.
By enrolling at Bravo, the students have demonstrated an interest in pursuing an education in science. Nevertheless, Joseph Cocozza, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School and director of the EHA, said introducing them to engineering really opens their eyes.
“They become really excited when they learn about the ways that engineering fits into medicine,” Cocozza said. “There are other medical magnet schools, but none of them has an engineering angle, and none of them has the backing of an institution like USC. This is what makes us stand out.”
Molovi Shuba, one of the Bravo seniors now working in the lab of Keck School Professor James Weiland, said the opportunity to learn about implantable electronic circuitry in the laboratory was hard to pass up.
“EHA gives me the chance to learn about many different things,” Shuba said, adding that he is also interested in robotics, which he studied through his EHA course in computer science. “I would not be working here [at USC] if I was in a different high school.”