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BME Pivots to a Virtual Open House in Response to COVID-19



Faculty and staff from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic spent weeks planning the annual Open House for prospective PhD students to be held March 13 – 15. But as the coronavirus rapidly spread around the globe, it became clear to members of the Open House Committee that the event would not go off as planned. On Wednesday, March 11 – the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic – the committee decided to forgo the in-person event and shift to an online Open House.

“Within 48 hours, we converted just about everything we could from in-person to virtual and even captured some new things that we had found challenging to do in person, but knew the students would find beneficial,” says Horst von Recum, professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the Open House Committee.

Traditionally, the Open House includes in-person orientations, mixers, sessions with current PhD candidates and one-on-one interviews with 40 to 50 prospective graduate students. Faculty and staff brainstormed creative ways to turn these events into virtual ones. The online Open House included the following:

  • The Webinar – A primary component of the event was a webinar that introduced prospective students to Case Western Reserve University, the Department of Biomedical Engineering and its major research thrusts, and Cleveland.  
  • The Interviews – One-on-one interviews that were typically conducted in-person between students and faculty with matched research interests were held via Zoom video conferencing. von Recum created a series of YouTube videos to teach faculty how to use Zoom for the webinar and interviews and another video to explain to students how to interface virtually and what was expected of them.
  • The Hangouts – In place of mixers and networking between sessions, the Open House Committee created a Zoom meeting room where prospective students could “hang out” between events and meet one another, chat and leave notes. 
  • Meet the Lab Sessions – A new idea generated for the virtual Open House, these sessions allowed attendees to meet with members of the labs they would potentially join via Zoom.
  • The Landing Page – The committee created the Landing Page, another new addition to the Open House, where prospective students could not only obtain resources about the Department of Biomedical Engineering, but also take a look inside research labs and facilities at the university via virtual tours and videos. The resource page remains online at:

The virtual Open House was a resounding success, says von Recum. “We received many comments about how impressive it was that we put together something so comprehensive on such short notice,” he says. “It was definitely a team effort."