Conn. Congressman Jim Himes Tours Fairfield’s School of Engineering

Congressman Jim Himes Tours Fairfield’s School of Engineering

Photo of Jim Himes in classroom

Phuc Nguyen ’21 and Giles Ruck ’21 work on a robotic arm for wheelchair users while Congressman Himes and Dr. Shahrokh Etemad look on.

U.S. Representative Jim Himes (D., Conn., 4th District) visited campus this week to explore initiatives underway by Fairfield students in the Bannow Science Center's automation, biomedical, and cybersecurity laboratories. 

Congressman Jim Himes was welcomed to Fairfield’s School of Engineering on Wednesday, March 24, by Fairfield University President Mark R. Nemec, PhD; School of Engineering Dean Andres Carrano, PhD; Chair and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Shahrokh Etemad, PhD; and Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Jennifer Anderson '97, MBA'02.

“The visit by Congressman Himes highlights the School of Engineering as an engine of economic development for the State of Connecticut,” said Dean Carrano. “Across the various programs in engineering and computer science, on average, we place around 60 percent of our graduates into companies located within the state; these alumni contribute to the sectors of manufacturing, automation, and biomedical engineering, among others.”

The first stop on the tour was the Materials Characterization Lab, a biomaterial and biomedical lab where Congressman Himes, accompanied by District Director Jimmy Tickey, and Acting District Representative Stephen Blinder met Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Harsha Sundarram, PhD and Assistant Professor of Electrical & Bioengineering Isaac Macwan, PhD. 

Dr. Sundarram discussed his research focus in micro and nano manufacturing, his current work in the area of biomaterials, and the development of a large microbioreactor array for holistic drug testing. Student Nwachukwu Ibekwe ’22 also spoke with the visitors, describing his project work, which focuses on the design, fabrication, and testing of the microbioreactor. 

Dr. Macwan, who teaches a course on biosensors that coincides with electrospinning and electropolymerization applications, talked about how his course prepares students like Jenna Madigan ‘22 for biomedical engineering jobs. Madigan shared that she is currently working with Dr. Macwan on a DNA repair project that involves molecular simulations and synthesis of a biosensor substrate, using an electrochemical workstation and electrospinning.  

Congressman Himes next joined Chair and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Shahrokh Etemad, PhD and Professor of the Practice, Biomedical Engineering, Susan Freudzon, PhD in the Automation and Manufacturing Lab, for an overview of current projects and biomedical lab equipment.

Using two electrodes attached to her arm, Dr. Freudzon demonstrated acquiring electromyography (EMG) data of the forearm muscles while measuring grip strength using a force transducer. She explained that many muscle cells contribute to generate force in the forearm, and these muscle cells are constantly alternating their activation to prevent fatigue. This results in a noisy electrical signal due to the large number of muscle fibers "firing" at alternating times.

Dr. Freudzon pointed out that this test is frequently used to measure the ergonomics of medical devices or other tools. She highlighted a recent senior design project in which students designed a tool for lifting logs. “They were able to demonstrate, using EMG testing, that their prototype significantly reduced muscle activity in the lower back, indicating that their log-lifting tool could lessen lower back strain.”

Dean Carrano and Professor Mirco Speretta, PhD next debriefed the visitors in the new Cybersecurity Lab, alongside Joseph Wilson, the system administrator. “Given his involvement in the National Security Committee," noted Dean Carrano, "Congressman Himes showed a strong interest in our Cybersecurity facilities and initiatives.” 

The group discussed how the lab was built and customized to provide a unique hands-on, experiential learning environment for cybersecurity students. Accommodating both in-person and online learning, the lab functions to develop the technological skills needed to monitor, mitigate, and prevent online security threats. With plans to host cybersecurity events that will be open to the community, students will have the opportunity to use the lab for work on research projects in partnership with the private sector. Upcoming events include a lunchtime conversation on April 14 with FBI Supervisory Special Agent Conor Phoenix, leader of the FBI New Haven Division's cyber squad. 

As the afternoon with Congressman Himes wrapped up, President Nemec, Dean Carrano, and Dr. Etemad emphasized Fairfield’s priority in aligning its programs to industry needs in Connecticut.

“We appreciated Congressman Jim Himes' visit to the School of Engineering facility and his interest in our progress and interaction with local industries,” said Dr. Etemad. “He was pleased to hear that nearly 60 percent of Fairfield engineering graduates stay and secure employment in Connecticut. He inquired about internship and job placement and was informed that around 55 percent of our student engineers completed two or more internships, and above 90 percent have completed one internship during their time at Fairfield, enhancing job placement upon graduation.”

For more information about Fairfield University's School of Engineering, visit

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