BAE Fast Path Students Complete First Year, Prepare for Future

LSU’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE), in conjunction with LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, recently completed the first year of the comprehensive fast track B.S./M.D./Ph.D. program.

The Fast Path program launched in fall 2015 and allows qualified students to partake in an enriched undergraduate experience in preparation for medical school and a doctoral curriculum. As a result of faculty-approved course credit, students have the opportunity to receive the three degrees in one-to-three years less than the traditional path.

The program can accommodate up to 10 students each year. To qualify, students must have an ACT score of 30 or higher and must enter the university with significant Advanced Placement credit in math, English and some arts, humanities and social sciences.

Rising biological engineering sophomores Megan Devine, Sheila Mallenahalli and Alex Rader were among the first to enter the triple degree program last fall and have no plans of looking back.

Rader, an LSU Stamps Scholar and Dallas native, said he was “intrigued by the program’s difficulty” when first introduced to it during an event held for honors students.

Mallenahalli, also an LSU Stamps Scholar, discovered the program during her senior year at Lafayette High School in Lafayette, Louisiana, while touring the BAE department.

“I want to practice medicine, as well as do research in my field, eventually,” Mallenahalli said. “I realized that having an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree was the best way for me to achieve this goal. Being a part of the program will allow me to further my career and will give me the tools to do my job well.”

Other students, like Devine, of Garland, Texas, found out about the program after conducting a quick Internet search about LSU and its biological engineering program.

“LSU is such a large school, so I wanted to be a part of a small group full of people that have the same aspirations as me,” Devine said. “I also love the fact that Dr. [David] Constant is a mentor for the Fast Path Program.”

BAE Department Chair W. David Constant deemed the first year a success. Of the nine students who opted into the program in the fall, seven remain.
There is some attrition expected with this program “because of its rigorous nature,” Constant said.

“It’s a major commitment for a college freshmen or high school senior to make, to do about 10 years of advanced education,” he said. “So, we expect some of them to become more familiar with everything, and ultimately decide to change their path.”

Some students, for example, may be more interested in practicing medicine instead of conducting research, he said, but the department can accommodate all interests.

Rader, who will spend part of his summer in Greece and the other part conducting research with the department’s Hayes Research Group, admitted the amount of coursework required by the program has been “a bit overwhelming at times,” but added he is determined to reach his personal goal of “making the world a better place through medicine.”

“I find myself called to help remove the pain and suffering of those suffering from neurodegeneration, such as dementia, and I hope to help them live full lives,” Rader said.

Students in the program have to be more adaptive than a student entering the standard BAE program, which Mallenahalli said was the biggest challenge for her.

“Being a part of this program entails taking upper level courses a little earlier than other people in the normal biological engineering track,” she said. “This has taught me the importance of perseverance and developing a strong work ethic because most of these courses entail understanding concepts that are not easy to grasp. In order to do well, I had to adjust very quickly to this new level of workload.”

Mallenahalli explained “having less of a buffer period to get adjusted to college was difficult,” but it taught her how to prioritize her coursework and life, as well as balance school with her involvement in multiple student organizations.

Devine agreed and urged rising freshmen in the program to prepare for the inevitable changes as early as possible.

“It is never too early to start preparing. Get familiar with the course subjects now so that it doesn’t seem like a foreign language the first day of class,” Devine said. “I also suggest that you make friends with the other people in the program. It’s good to have friends who know exactly what you’re going through.”

Mallenahalli agreed that getting to know people in the program was a great benefit to her experience, too.

“It is by no means an easy program to be in, and surrounding yourself with other people who are in a similar situation will definitely ease the burden,” she said. “You will be in many of the same classes together throughout the years and having a helping hand coming from someone who understands the position you are in will no doubt make it an easier process.”

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For more information about the Fast Path program, visit http://www.bae.lsu.edu/fastpath. For any other questions, please contact communications assistant M.B. Humphrey at marissah@lsu.edu.