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HeartBeats Episode 16: Shipley Scholars Program Benefits FGCU

HeartBeats: Shipley Cardiothoracic Center Podcasts

 Host

Welcome. I'm Cathy Murtagh-Schaffer and I'm your host for this episode of HeartBeats. This podcast is brought to you by Shipley Cardiothoracic Center, an educational series dedicated to providing our patients and the community with information and education about our cardiothoracic surgery program, Lee Health and matters affecting your health. Today, we have three special guests, Dr. Christopher Geiger, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at Florida Gulf Coast University, Chris Simoneau, Chief Foundation and Development Officer for Lee Health, and Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, a leading Cardiac Surgeon from Shipley Cardiothoracic Center. They have some exciting news to deliver to the community and I'm happy to say we're announcing it here first, Dr. DiGiorgi, would you like to make the announcement?

Dr.DiGiorgi:

Well starting now this year, we are going to formalize our Shipley Scholars Program, and it is a program for the students that FGCU, the biomedical engineering students that really recognizes their efforts that the department has been working on with us for several years now, where students who are interested in doing projects that revolve around heart and lung surgery are able to participate with us, which they have been doing in the past, but are now recognized through a scholarship program, which there are, you know, awards.

Host:

Yeah, yeah. That's fantastic.

Dr.DiGiorgi:

So it's really gonna help them financially through their school year and then over the summer too, if they choose to stick around and do summer projects with us. So again, we've been working with Chris for some time with the senior projects for the biomedical engineering students, and now we're ready to take it to another level. They can really get something that's truly recognizable through our scholarship program. We're happy to collaborate with FCCU and also the foundation with Chris Simoneau, who I agree, sees this as an opportunity to really involve the whole philanthropic community and just supporting the students better, coming through FGCUand for all of Southwest Florida, especially the ones who are interested in things that we do are things like what we do, which are medical or STEM related. So I think it's an opportunity both for the foundation and for the university to kind of really improve the community throughout the region, for the students and the idea that this can be a hub for kind of engineering ideas, to flourish, help recruit people down here and really just help the region overall.

Host:

It has been traditional for health systems to collaborate with medical residents and nurses and PA programs. But I think this is pretty innovative connecting to the engineering school and bringing in the STEM students. This is a fantastic opportunity for both sides,

Dr.DiGiorgi

Absolutely, the success and progress of a community usually hinges on the educational processes in town and the universities are key to that. And so, it is my vision and has always been, and the reason why we work together for all these years, is that FCCU and the other colleges as well, but especially FGCU with the biomedical engineering program is a key player in that. The better FGCU is the better all of Southwest Florida is, and we'll do whatever we can to help that along.

Host:

Dr. Geiger, how is this going to impact FGCU bioengineering students?

Dr. Geiger:

Well, I think what Paul said is really valuable and really valuable to our students, you know, the opportunity to be recognized for the work that they're putting in, as well as having that economic opportunity to have a summer internship, to have experiential learning opportunities. You know, those are the, one of the big things that I think when it comes to our graduates, enabling them to get their first job is really having those experiences. You know, I always tell my students that, everyone has the same degree as you when they're applying for a job, what makes you stand out? What makes you different? And so these scholarships opportunities, and more importantly, the internship opportunity with the summer opportunities are really going to be valuable to the students and I think it's going to enable us to think a little bit longer term as well. So we've, we've done the projects that we've done currently, you know, our kind of year-long projects. This might provide us the opportunity to think a little bit further and beyond that, and maybe be involved in a longer term project that might take a little bit more time to recognize what the output is, but understanding that that is going to be a more significant impact because I think one of the things that we want to be able to do is to work on that level of community and definitely, not only engage our students and help our students, but help the region as well. So I think it has to be a mutually beneficial, opportunity to afford for, for everyone involved.

Host:

It seems like it's going to offer you the opportunity for some continuity in your projects and for students to be able to move into the project and do their part and then if the project isn't finished, you have an opportunity to bring the next set in and, and complete.

Dr. Geiger:

And that's one of the things when we've done our capstone design projects, that we've not really had the opportunity to do. We usually try and take something from concept to some sort of prototype by the end of the nine-month period. So, our capstone design sequences a two semester sequence. But, there are certainly larger projects that I think we've thought about that maybe aren't necessarily a single-year project. And I think that starts to become even more of a realistic constraint that students will see in their jobs, very few engineering applications does someone come in at the very beginning and get to see it through all the way to the end. So their first job might be picking up something that's already been worked on for a period of time before perhaps innovating off of that original product. So giving some students those kinds of opportunities as well, rather than seeing something from start to finish is, is unique and it's something I've not seen a lot of in other biomedical programs across the country.

Host:

Chris, I know you actually worked in fundraising and development at FCCU, which I'm sure gives you some special insight as the foundation developed the Shipley fund. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how it helped Lee Health foundation to develop this fund?

Chris Simoneau:

Sure, thank you. I have had the opportunity and been blessed to work both at FCCU and here at Lee Health, so this was a great opportunity to facilitate the partnership between the outstanding surgeons and the program we have with the Shipley Center and the outstanding students that we have in the bioengineering department over at FGCU. I really see this as an opportunity having worked at FGCU, I know that 25 to 30% of the students that attend FGCU were the first in their families to go to college. Often, financial means is an impediment for them while they're going to school. So having a scholarship really helps to offset the fact that they can put more time into their studies and less time into working. So I think first off, anytime you can give scholarships to students and help them get through the four years with limited debt and limited work is important. So I saw that as a great opportunity, but more importantly, the outstanding students that FGCU now have an opportunity to see firsthand what's happening in a real organization doing real tough difficult things that will not only prepare them and help them in their educational journey, but it will also prepare them for what comes after college. I think having these experiences here at the Shipley Center will prepare them for whatever's next, whether that's a job, whether that's continued education, or a different company that they want to get involved with. It will give them that leg up, as Dr. Geiger said about their peers, having done a real detailed project, interacted with real doctors, outstanding surgeons on advancing knowledge is what education's all about and we want to give them that opportunity.

Host:

And I think that's, as far as the students are concerned, I think there's a real benefit to working with our surgeons who are on cutting edge technology and always thinking of creative ways to engage with patients and make sure that their healthcare journey is optimal. So to be able to be engaged with that and see it in life, real-life action, I think is a real benefit.

Chris Simoneau:

Well, I think that you can make it through school by working at the restaurants or the hotels or valet cars, or you can really delve into an educational and research and learning experience like they'll get here at the Shipley Center. That will make them more marketable that will make them more employable, and hopefully, it will help alleviate some of the debt that they might incur while going to school. So this is a great opportunity for both the students and for us at the Shipley Center to learn from young minds who look at things completely different and that's what we really want to inspire is some great new creative ideas.

Host:

The school of engineering was founded in 2005 and FGCU offers several science, technology, engineering, mathematics degrees, including bioengineering. Dr. Geiger, can you tell us a little bit about FGC U and what makes it so special?

Dr. Geiger:

Sure. So I think, you know, Chris actually pointed to one of the things that I think makes FGCU really unique, although not necessarily unique at the, the sense of the United States, we're a regional comprehensive institution, right? And so what that means is that we are focused on regional activity, regional economic development, regional workforce development. And so, you know, our focus is on student success, our focus is on accessibility and upward mobility. And so that idea that you have 25/ 30%, that are first-generation students, where we see a lot of non-traditional students, we see a lot of, veterans that come back to school, right? Those are the types of students that we do see coming into FGCU. So that's one of the things that I think when we look for opportunities, it's that opportunity to help the students as well as help the community, help economic development. And so when we have those opportunities to see all those things align, that's what really starts to be encouraging and really wants us to work hard towards those things. So, you know, we are a teaching first institution, right? So our research, we're not going to be at the research level of a research-intensive state flagship institution or a, an elite private institution. But when you look at regional comprehensive institutions across the United States, we're about 10% of the overall higher institutes of higher learning, but we graduate about 30% of the total number of students. So, it's a really, it's what people consider to be the people's university.

Host:

And I know FGCU has a wonderful reputation here in this County.

Dr.Geiger:

You know, when, when FCCU came here, we're the only university now, FSW as well between Miami and Tampa. And so, we really do cater to that five County region, that surrounds Southwest Florida. I think the impact is, is that we have a lot of students who want to stay here after graduation. Having those opportunities to really get some experiences, that's going to make them marketable in the region, I think, and keeping that talent in the region are things that we want to be able to see. And so I think these types of programs offer that opportunity.

Host:

Reenergizing our community with young minds, as you said, I think is a wonderful opportunity to keep Fort Myers vibrant and alive and continuing to contribute overall to what's going on in Florida.

Dr.Geiger:

Absolutely, and if this can encourage other new startups or other companies to come down, I think that's, you know, all the better, right? So, the more success that we have, success breeds success. And so I think this is that, that seed that hopefully will start something that we'll see to continue to build over over time.

Host:

Dr. DiGiorgi, I know you've been working with the FGCU students for some time. What about this particular group of students makes Shipley Cardiothoracic Center want to develop a fund to support the program?

Dr.Digiorgi:

Well, they've been our students, they've been our only students that we've had come into the operating room and work with us because they're biomedical engineering students. It was the initial best fit for the type of students that would get the most out of being able to contribute the most to the kind of work that we do doing heart and lung surgery. Certainly not the only kind of students we'd be interested in, but it was an easy first choice to work with. We have biomedical engineers who are an integral part of a team within the hospital. So, the hospital knows this, they know biomedical engineering, it's as important to what goes on in the hospitals, as anything else that goes on and they have a way of looking at technical problems or challenges that come up or just the way that we do business in the operating room that's unique that can help us look at the whole process of operating on a person in ways that we didn't necessarily think of before and help us to improve. So some of the projects that they've done with us have been around OR efficiencies, some have been around unique devices that we might have needed in the operating room, new ways to measure certain kinds of outcomes in the operating room. There's a lot of technology in the operating room. So engineering is probably 90% of the operating room, 10% of the people that are in there are using the engineering things. So it's really important and, it's always been important in the operating room. So, yeah, engineers are just as important in that room as the surgeon, I think.

Host:

Supporting STEM programs is seen as a key to sustain growth and stability in the United States. However, we know there have been significant gender inequalities within the STEM occupations women make up about 48% of the US workforce, but they only represent about 27% of the STEM workforce. Dr. Geiger, do you see this fund as a way to help with these inequalities are young women more likely to participate in STEM studies, given the opportunity to obtain a scholarship.

Dr.Geiger:

So I think the monetary piece is a part of it. I think also, you know, just what the activity is and what the outcomes of those activities are. So if you look across to engineering, for example, we actually at FGCU have two programs that probably have the highest percentages of women involved in those programs in any engineering program across the United States. So the two usually is biomedical engineering and environmental engineering are usually the two, nationally are the two largest percentages of women. It's almost 50/50 in both, at our program right now, I've looked at the numbers the other day, we're about 42% females and across the entire undergraduate population. I'm not quite certain what environmental is, but I'm sure it's pretty close to the national average. So, it just so happens that that is one of the areas that when females think of engineers, that engineering that is one of the areas that they go into. And so I think it's more, you know, it's certainly the money is a big piece of it, but I also just think it's the opportunity, you know, biomedical in particular, is an engineering field where I think you see the direct impact of quality of life and the improvement of quality of life. It's very easy to measure. Civil engineering might be a little bit more difficult, although they might actually on a larger scale impact more people, right? A building is going to- how well a building performs is going to impact more people perhaps than a pacemaker over time. I think just that ability for seeing the immediate impact of what you design or what you make is what drives people into wanting to do these types of things in biomedical engineering.

Host:

Dr. DiGiorgi, why do you feel STEM studies need support?

Dr.DiGiorgi:

They should always be supported whether they needed it or not, because, I have a nice, of course I speak from a surgeon's viewpoint and someone who's done made science his career, but, science is the basis on which we really progress society besides the arts. In medicine, it gets more and more complicated all the time. You constantly need to feed that need because we need more and more people to figure out how to take care of the complexity of the patients keeps increasing and the complexity of the technology to take care of those patients is increasing dramatically. If you don't invest in that, you're not going to get to the level that you need to be at in order to take care of patients. So it, whether it's biomedical or any kind of engineering, really, anything science-based and math-based, it's going to produce the kind of critical thinking that you need to tackle these problems. It's very important, and it's not just in medicine. You can talk about math and analytics, etc. There are all kinds of, you know, AI, computer engineering. I mean, engineering is all around us, whether we see it or not. The plants around us, made all the genetic modifications, whether you support that kind of idea or not, but human progress, at least technological progress is all about STEM. And these kinds of specialties really need to be encouraged. And especially maybe in some countries where it's been a little bit underserved and arguments have been made that the US is one of those compared to other countries. For me personally, I think it's very important. I see the fruits of that labor every single day. And the failures of not knowing what we need to know and patients die because we don't know certain things. I know that tomorrow, the next generation is going to figure that out. Same way the previous generation lost patients and now for us today, it's simple. So it does at least in our world, it immediately equates it to saving lives.

Host:

Chris, how do you see these studies playing a role in the growth of Lee Health and the Lee Health community?

Chris Simoneau:

I think that coupling what both of my colleagues said is critical. I want to speak a little bit about diversity. I think what Paul you were saying is really around diversity, right? We needed a diversity of thinking and putting engineers and artists together and scientists and analytics people together, and people who have many decades of experience in operating rooms with people who have never seen an operation before, because they can see things differently. We have to encourage that. We have to look outside of our comfort zone. We have to invite people in who think differently for us. So at Lee Health we're looking for those opportunities, whether it's with our local universities and colleges, to engage with people who think, and look and feel differently than us, because that's how the best ideas will come forward. And so I think we do need more women in STEM, but we also need more of everything in STEM and in the operating room. Who knows whether these scholarships and these opportunities will lead someone to follow in the footsteps of a surgeon or into sales or into nursing or any other area, but to give them a diversity of experience and ideas to find that path for them in life. I think that's going to be critical

Host:

And to play off what Dr. DiGiorgi said, fresh eyes always bring in fresh ideas, always.

Host:

As with all scholarship funds, I'm sure there are parameters around these funds, Dr. Geiger, can you tell our listeners how the funds are to be directed and what can a student expect in the way of tuition help from the fund and how do they apply for it?

Dr.Geiger:

So, we're actually in the process of setting up the awards for the first cohort that's going to come through this fall. So, we're looking through applicants and that's the process right now. The opportunity I think, is going to be the potential for a multi-year scholarship that will allow for somewhere between five and eight students per year, to be awarded somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple thousand dollars to $4,000, or $5,000, somewhere in that neighborhood. Along with the potential for a summer internship, which would be a paid internship, as well as funding for what I'm going to call professional development. So that's potential to go to a conference to present their findings at a conference for travel purposes, for additional materials, perhaps for studying for the MCATs or GREs or something like that, along with some project funds as well. So I think it's going to allow us to have multiple ways in which we can impact their education over the last two years in our program. I think that's going to be a huge benefit to them. Just knowing our students and knowing what Chris had kind of already said, we have a number of students who are trying to work full-time as well as go to school full-time.

Host:

I remember that feeling very well.

Dr.Geiger:`

I have always said that engineering is a field where it is a full-time job to take a full course load of classes. Being able to offset that somehow, or maybe even completely I think is a huge benefit. You have to remember that here in the state of Florida, tuition is fairly inexpensive relative to the rest of the countries, particularly for in-state students. So that $4,000 or $5,000 will go a long away.

Host:

The opportunity for students to participate in an immersion experience through Shipley has got to be an invaluable opportunity for them, exposure to the clinical realm helps get them out of a classroom to be able to visualize and experience the problems and needs of a clinical situation and a clinical exposure can help them see what they bring to the table, actually makes a difference in patient's lives. Dr. DiGiorgi, what type of feedback have you got from the students who have spent time at Shipley?

Dr.DiGirgi:

I think it's kind of mind-blowing for them to walk into an operating room. Most of them in the operating room for the first time, one of whom was in the hospital for the first time, since he was born here, which was pretty neat. So, you know, everybody remembers when they first went into an operating room and for some people that inspire the rest of their careers and that's something that's easy to take for granted when you're in there every day as your job and you've been doing it for hundreds of hours, thousands of hours. It's easy to forget and we want to bring people in, and it's really exciting to see kind of the sparkle in their eye when they walk into this room and see all the things around them. They have insight into what's around too because they do engineering and they're not simply a visitor, but then see the impact, the profound impact of someone's chest open or an operating room table and their heart beating and seeing that we're walking a very fine line there between life and death and seeing the heart stopped on purpose and then restarted. I think really for them, that's kind of a completely different level of perspective on life and may have a profound effect beyond just engineering, really kind of their whole philosophy of life and things like that. It was the same for me growing up and determining what specialty I wanted to do in surgery. You don't know what you don't know, and to be exposed to certain things sometimes really changes your perspective on life and what you want to do with it. So, we're there to show them what we do and not just what we do surgically in the field, but what does an anesthesiologist do, What does a perfusionist do, What are the biomedical engineers in the room do, what are the nurses do, what are the PAs to do? There's a whole host of people in that room. It's a large team and I've given talks to high school students who were interested in medicine and sciences, and really it was about exposing them to all different things, because most people, when you talk to people in certain specialties in that operating room and you ask them what it was like when they were a student, most of them will say they didn't know about what they ended up doing when they were in high school and college. They found out because they met somebody and there was a personal relationship that enlightened them to the existence of this thing that later on became their career. And they became very good at it. So that's part of what we do is to just expose them to what goes on there. They can help us, we can help them. It's mutually beneficial. I think that would be a very memorable time for them. It's my intention on continuing this and involving the philanthropic community, who I know are interested in the students and want to continue these things and to show them that this is a successful program, not just surgically, because we are a top hospital in the state, but also educationally because we have a top college or university here. I think that's going to excite a lot of the people in the philanthropic world because this is unique and very beneficial to everybody.

Host:

Your comment makes me remember, 30 years ago, the first time that I ever saw a heart operation. I was absolutely awestruck, just could not believe that we could actually do something like this. So your comment is well taken.

Host:

Dr. Geiger. What about you? What do students tell you about their time here?

Dr.Geiger:

I'll echo exactly what Paul said, they're usually mind blown the first time that they see anything for the first time. From that I can directly point to three or four students whose career paths have been directly influenced by that. We have one of the students that Paul worked with a couple of years ago, who's now a second-year medical school student. We had two who ended up working in the VA system as biomedical engineers. We have one who is part of a cardiovascular imaging group. So, you know, it's directly influencing for some of them the direction that they take post-graduation and the types of jobs that they look for, the types of career paths that they look for. So I think everyone who has worked with Paul has been amazed at not only the type of surgeries that they get to witness, but I think just how accessible he is how much of an opportunity he's provided them. I think for a lot of them, you know, one of the things that we struggle with in terms of design, which is kind of where Paul has helped us the most is in terms of the actual formation of what the need is. So needs finding is a really important part of the design process. It is not something that we can do well in the classroom. Usually, our projects are pretty well-defined from the get-go, but this program, one of the hopes of this program is to continue those things that we've already done, where the students can come into the operating room, come into the environment and look for those needs directly, and that's a real educational experience for them.

Host:

Yeah. I think that goes to my comment about being able to visualize and experience the real world of surgery and then how does their knowledge apply to that?

Dr.Geiger:

Absolutely, and what the limitations are, is there a size constraint? Is there a space constraint? You know, the operating rooms are not big and there are lots of people in them.

Host:

The operating spaces even smaller

Dr.Geiger:

And, you know, there are lots of lights going off and lots of things going on, it's controlled chaos. And, so understanding what those limitations are in the design process, I think seeing that firsthand really brings them to life and makes them realistic for them.

Host:

Chris, do you think providing student experiences helps give Shipley's generous donors, a better idea of Shipley's commitment to the community?

Chris Simoneau:

Absolutely, I think that this will show our donor community that it is more than just what happens in the operating room or in the hospital, that it is a community partnership. What my two colleagues just said is that it is a team. There's a lot of people in that room. We have rockstar surgeons, but they can't do it alone, and that the Shipley is bigger than the surgeons. It's about the research that's going on, it's about the nursing and the anesthesiologist and all the other people that contribute to great outcomes. I think donors want to invest in winning teams and the Shipley Center for many years has been a winning team. And so as we add FGCU officially onto the team, I think our donors will say, this is an even stronger investment and a bet on, or an investment in the Shipley Center or an FGCU for that matter is a good investment because it is changing students' lives, it's improving outcomes, it's giving us different perspectives, it's improving the way we do business and I think donors want to be a part of that.

Host:

Right, they want to feel that their, their contribution is impacting lives in the community.

This is certainly exciting news coming from the Shipley Center. Does anyone have anything else they'd like to add regarding the FGCU scholarship program?

Dr.DiGiorgi:

That's going to be great.

Host:

It is going to be great.

Thank you so much for being here today to announce the Shipley Cardiothoracic FGCU STEM scholarship program until next time I'm Cathy Murtagh-Schaffer and this has been HeartBeats, Shipley Cardiothoracic Centers podcast, dedicated to bringing research innovation and education to our patients and the community until next time.

Shipley Scholars Program has donated $150,000 to FGCU bioengineering students to not only help with tuition but also help support the students’ professional development through conferences, travel, internships, and other opportunities. Listen in on how this scholarship will affect the lives of FGCU students and how this new Scholars program will affect our community.

Featuring: Dr. Paul DiGiorgi, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Chris Simoneau, Chief Foundation and Development Officer for Lee Health and Dr. Chris Geiger, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at Florida Gulf Coast University

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