Slam Dunk Through STEM Service

Slam Dunk Through STEM Service

Dr. Drazan served as the STEM director of non-profit 4th Family Inc. where he delivered STEM education through sports biomechanics to students.

Dr. Drazan served as the STEM director of non-profit 4th Family Inc. where he delivered STEM education through sports biomechanics to students.

Meet Fairfield’s New Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering: John Drazan, PhD

Currently an NIH Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award postdoctoral fellow in the University of Pennsylvania’s Human Motion Lab, John Drazen, PhD’s research focuses on building mobile biomechanical devices to study how changes in muscle structure following injury or training impacts function. Among his many accolades is the 2020 Early Career Award for Public Engagement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in recognition of his work to inspire a new generation of students to engage in STEM through sports, and “Best Research Paper” at the MIT-Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Dr. Drazan will join the School of Engineering in fall 2021.

You describe yourself as an interdisciplinary biomedical engineer. Can you explain?
The cool thing about biomedical engineering is that we’re not united by a specific disciplinary approach. We are united by the application of engineering to human health. The field includes biomechanics, device design, and systemic application of engineering principles to improve human health through any means necessary.
My specialty is biomechanics; in other words, understanding how people move, what impacts that movement, and how that impacts human health.

You’ve engaged students in sports mechanics as a way to introduce them to the field of biomechanics. Can you talk about this?
Science is simply the process of asking and answering questions you find interesting, and many kids are interested in sports. Sports analytics can provide a tangible application of math and statistics, allowing students to gather data, analyze it, and link it directly to their own performance.
For the past decade, I’ve served as the STEM director of 4th Family Inc., a grassroots non-profit based out of Albany, N.Y. We found that students who are not traditionally engaged in STEM are motivated to use STEM concepts as a tool for basketball training. Our afterschool program has grown to a national one partnering with professional sports organizations such as the NBA Summer League. In the past eight years, we have worked with over 10,000 students to deliver STEM education through sports biomechanics.

You spent a year teaching at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the country’s first degree-granting, historically Black college. How did this inform your teaching?
I always emphasize undergraduate involvement in technical research, especially among students belonging to underrepresented minority groups. I’m also a huge proponent of service learning. One of the first conversations I have with students is to ask, “What is your WHY?” They have different motivations. I get to tie what I’m doing to their motivations, and when you dig deep enough students inevitably say they want to help people. Service learning allows you to tap into that desire and use it to motivate students. At Lincoln, my students created lessons on anatomy and physiology for 60 urban high school students, emphasizing Lincoln alumni who distinguished themselves in the sciences.

What opportunities are open to graduates with an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering?
The sky’s the limit. Biomedical engineering is a beautiful preparation for any number of careers related to human health. Biomedical engineering is simply a way to apply engineering principles to solving any problem in human health. A graduate might work with different firms making orthopedic implants or biomedical devices, or in biomanufacturing or vaccine development, for example. It’s also a great preparation for medical school.

What type of equipment will students be using in the biomedical lab?
We’re still building out the lab, but we will have a motion capture system to measure human movement, a mobile ultrasound system to study tissue structure in the musculoskeletal system, and we’ll be building several custom devices to measure muscle structure and function.
One of the challenges of human subject research is the difficulty in studying large groups of people, so we end up doing “convenience sampling” (using other students in experiments, for example). At UPenn, I designed and deployed low-cost, mobile measurement devices to collect human biomechanical data within orthopedic clinics to understand patient recovery. At Fairfield, I plan to deploy these tools in the surrounding community to collect biomechanical data in locations convenient to the local community rather than researchers.

What are you looking forward to at Fairfield University?
It’s obvious that Fairfield really values service and public engagement, and that fits nicely with my values as a researcher and educator. I’m also a fan of a liberal arts education. It was beneficial to me as an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo, and I believe it’s what prepared me to identify which medical problems to tackle and to communicate my findings to a range of audiences.
Joining Fairfield University is an opportunity to train a new generation of biomedical engineers who not only perform correct analyses, but who use these skills to positively impact those most marginalized in our society.

Tags:  School of Engineering

Last modified: 10-18-21 2:23 PM

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