Wednesday’s engineering class began with a safety briefing by student Will Varner about emergency escape routes at JA. Class ended with a discussion about tissue engineering. In between, students’ attention remained on alert as Dr. Jerry Gilbert, Mississippi State University provost and executive vice president, talked about his work and research in prosthetic engineering and hip replacement. One of his areas of expertise is biological engineering.
Students learned how biological engineers apply engineering principles to the human body to solve problems in medicine. Dr. Gilbert participated in research that helped amputees who use prosthetic devices regain balance and control through stimulating nerve sensation. He said patients initially felt the sensation of tingling in their toes. They eventually felt like they were putting pressure on their foot.
“After six months the patients felt like they had their foot back. The feedback improved their gait and balance,” said Dr. Gilbert. He gave an example of a male patient using prosthetics on both legs who would frequently cut himself while standing to shave due to balance issues. After using biological feedback, the patient’s issues with shaving were resolved.
Dr. Gilbert also described how biological engineering research on hip replacement devices helped create a porous surface to hold a titanium hip stem in the femur. Finally, he discussed current research in tissue engineering, with the future possibility of every human organ, including heart valves, kidneys, livers, and cartilage, being developed from a patient’s own tissue, thus reducing organ rejection by the body.
Offered at JA through an agreement with MSU, Jackson State University, and JA, the class provides real-world exploration of engineering subjects and careers and is taught by a registered professional engineer, Kenneth Hughey. Introduction to Engineering with Chemical Engineering Applications is nearly identical to the freshman-level engineering course offered at the Starkville campus with content added to give students an overview of other engineering disciplines. College credit earned through the course can be applied to MSU, JSU, or transferred to another institution of higher learning.
Hughey holds a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from MSU and a Master of Business Administration from Mississippi College. He served as a certified senior reactor operator at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station and retired as vice president of nuclear business development after 28 years of service with Entergy Nuclear.
In addition to guest lectures from professional engineers in the field and JSU professors, plans include field trips to the MSU Starkville campus, the MSU CAVS (Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems) Extension center, and Nissan facilities in Canton.
“This course is a natural extension of the school’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education that has transformed the way science is taught in the Lower and Middle School divisions at JA,” said Jackson Academy Upper School Dean Steve McCartney. “We are very pleased to partner with Mississippi State and Jackson State to offer the challenge of a college engineering course to our top students.”
Dr. Gilbert said that early exposure to engineering and related higher education majors will help students be more confident in making decisions about their future educational plans.