Two Gifts Help UMass Amherst Colleges of Nursing and Engineering Drive Innovation

AMHERST — Two visionary financial gifts have provided a strong foundation for UMass Amherst nurses and engineers to collaborate and lead transformational change in patient care, nursing practice, and medical-product development.

In May, alumni Michael and Theresa Hluchyj, longtime supporters of both the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing, committed $1 million in seed funding for a collaborative center. Building on their prior philanthropy devoted to graduate fellowships, their vision was to help foster partnerships between the two disciplines to identify issues and develop innovative solutions.

“Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines,” Michael Hluchyj said when announcing the gift. “The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”

Inspired by the transformational possibilities enabled by the Hluchyjs’ generosity, in September, the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation gave a gift of $21.5 million to the College of Nursing, with a significant portion designated to support the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation.

“The innovative nursing engineering program currently being launched at the university was clearly the catalyst for capturing the interest of the foundation and is consistent with Elaine’s own spirit of innovation in learning,” said Martin Wasmer, Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation trustee.

In the few short months since the foundation gift was announced, the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation has established an initial laboratory footprint on the sixth floor of Life Sciences Laboratories, said center co-directors Frank Sup, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and Karen Giuliano, Nursing and Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

The center also currently supports two graduate fellowships and is accepting pilot grant applications from interdisciplinary nursing and engineering teams. Its first postdoctoral fellow and undergraduate interns are expected to begin work next summer.

As a nurse-innovator with experience in both clinical care and product development during her many years in industry, Giuliano says involving nurses in the earliest stages of the development process is crucial.

“As the nation’s largest group of healthcare professionals, nurses use more products and are a part of more services than any other healthcare professional,” she said. “Traditionally, nurses have not been included as part of the healthcare innovation process — the Elaine Marieb Center intends to change that.”

Sup added that “the mission is to advance human health and wellness by training the next generation of nurses and engineers to be leaders at the frontiers of healthcare delivery. The nurse-engineer approach represents a powerful, integrated, real-time collaboration to identify healthcare problems, iterate potential solutions, evaluate outcomes, and balance tradeoffs to optimize system performance and patient care.”

The Elaine Marieb Center has already established itself as a Center of Excellence for improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps. Intravenous (IV) infusion pump systems are among the most pervasive technologies in healthcare, used by about 90% of hospital patients, and have numerous well-known safety and usability issues that have a negative impact on patient care. This program of research is being led by Giuliano, with results from 16 publications representing both research and thought already disseminated.

More recently, the center research is focused on flow-rate accuracy during actual clinical use, with a series of studies being led by Jeannine Blake, MS, RN. Starting in July, Blake will be the first nursing doctoral student to enter an engineering postdoctoral fellowship, with mentorship from Juan Jiménez, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, who uses fluid flow engineering principles to better understand human systems.

Under Sup’s leadership, the center is also starting research on the use of robotics in healthcare. It teams doctoral students from both engineering and nursing, as well as an undergraduate nursing honors student, to identify challenges and develop robotic solutions to improve healthcare delivery for patients and providers.

A longer-term goal enabled by the Elaine Marieb Foundation gift will be the establishment of a lab at the university’s Mount Ida campus, which will provide a place for healthcare product and service testing with a diverse group of nurses and other frontline clinical end users.