Celebrating Black History Month, forging change through engineering with Anthony Guiseppi-Elie
In celebration of the 2022 Black History Month theme – Black Health and Wellness – theBenjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources invited Professor Anthony Guiseppi-Elie, founding dean of Anderson University College of Engineering, to speak on interfacing biology and engineering, his personal story as a Black engineer and entrepreneur, and how he is making a difference in science and education.
Story by Adrianne Uphold, Graduate Assistant
Guiseppi-Elie was born in Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island in the Caribbean, and studied analytical chemistry and biochemistry at the University of the West Indies. He holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom and earned his doctoral degree in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“As a Black student, I had to navigate an instructional mode that was designed not for all students, but instead it was designed for a group of students,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “I believe some institutions need to begin to adapt to the fact that the learning styles of all are different, and that some students benefit from earlier hands-on activities so that they have empathy and understanding of why they need to learn certain things.”
Guiseppi-Elie has implemented real change throughout his 40 year-long career, from creating early hands-on activities to designing curriculum for students to conduct reverse engineering. He spent 15 years in the industry before becoming a chemical and life science engineering professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1998. He was a professor for 17 years until he transitioned into university administration at Texas A&M and Anderson University.
Guiseppi-Elie’s research interests are in electrobiology, bioelectronics, biosensors and the development of engineered bioanalytical microsystems in the service of human health and medicine. He initially focused on chemical engineering and materials science; however, medicine was the interest of his youth and eventually drew him to the expanding field of biomedical engineering.
“At the end of my first degree, I had this calling to pursue research,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “This brought me to combine what I knew about biology to what I knew was going to be a very important intersection between life sciences and engineering.”
In the 1980s, it became apparent to Guiseppi-Elie that the intersection of life sciences and engineering was going to be significant to society — yet he wasn’t aware of how vital this intersection was going to be for his career at the time.
In 2022, Guiseppi-Elie now focuses on a frontier area of health: xenotransplantation, the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. He discussed the benefits of this form of transplantation and how xenotransplantation will unearth challenges in our social dysfunction.
“The people who are going to be served by these transplants may not be the ones who need them the most and this may show some disaffection in our society,” Guiseppi-Elie said.
Guiseppi-Elie also said that scientists must focus on the appropriate niche data to shed light on health disparities instead of just focusing on the data that encompasses all groups.
“There is a lot of health data that researchers can extract and learn from to do a lot of sophisticated analytics, but if that data has an inherent bias in terms of the population, then the analytics itself will have bias,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “Then the decisions that we make would be inherently biased.”
“It is also essential that scientists begin to think of artificial intelligence and data and the mechanistic aspects that goes into identifying the data deficits, so scientists can go back and correct the data if needed," he explained.
“We have the responsibility to engage the African American and brown community in proper representation in data,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “Mechanistic AI can share with us the underlying causation, not just the correlations.”
“The biggest challenge in health is the ever-escalating cost and its relation to health disparities and the determinants of health,” Guiseppi-Elie said.
“Health disparities cost, and it costs all of us, not just the disaffected,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “If we do not attend to those who are not properly represented in our health care system, the uninsured or those who are underinsured, the hard reality for those who are underinsured, or not represented in our health systems, is the eventuality of them turning up at our emergency rooms to be provided care under the law, and that cost is borne by all of us.”
Xenotransplantation and health analytics are at today’s very cutting-edge of medical science that will expose the dysfunction that health disparities bring at its core, Guiseppi-Elie said.
As engineers, Guiseppi-Elie said that students need to invest in their soft skills just as much as their technical skills to uncover and understand health disparities.
“The social dimension is something we have to maintain; we cannot just depend upon our scientific or technical engagement,” Guiseppi-Elie said.
Guiseppi-Elie used the ‘I-trained engineer’ analogy to show how engineering students need both hard and soft skills. The letter ‘I’ is a set of two horizontal bars that serve as a base and cap of soft skills. These skills are associated with communication, empathy, and understanding, which sets the foundation for success. The vertical line has to do with your mathematical, computational and other technical domain skills needed as an engineer.
“We like to think of the ‘I’ as a letter that describes the whole engineer, and the moral of the story is that your domain skills are not enough. Domain skills are necessary, but not sufficient,” Guiseppi-Elie said.
Guiseppi-Elie had one word for engineers who want to stay grounded and motivated in their work: empathy.
“Empathy is the ultimate superpower,” Guiseppi-Elie said. “Empathy is the cornerstone for robust discussion and true engagement. It begins with understanding that your perspective is not the only one that matters and that others have equally important perspectives.”
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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