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Dr. Lara Thompson (center), a scholar at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) was honored as an HBCU STEM Innovator at the annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA) Conference.

The HBCU STEM Innovation Awards are in their third year, and the ceremony was held on February 7 at the 33rd Annual BEYA Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Conference.

The HBCU STEM Innovator Award is presented to individuals who are recognized by their peers as ‘game-changing innovators’ at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Thompson is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the biomedical engineering program at UDC, a historically black public university in Washington, D.C.

“I am excited and honored to receive the STEM Innovator Award,” Thompson said. “After much effort procuring external funding for equipment, and with internal encouragement and support, today I direct the innovative Center for Biomechanical & Rehabilitation Engineering (CBRE) research laboratory focused on balance and gait in particular on aging individuals.”

As a faculty member in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UDC, Thompson is the creator and director for the CBRE Laboratory. This lab utilizes sensor technology and engineering principles to provide clinical diagnostics on individuals whose gait and motion have been impaired due to age, injury, and stroke.

“With increases in average life expectancy, from 43 million Americans over sixty-five years old in 2012 to 72 million projected by 2030, the importance of balance training methodologies and assistive technologies towards maintaining overall health, improving balance, as well as preventing falls has significant societal relevance,” she explained.

Thompson has been a lead investigator of several grants from the National Science Foundation including a Research Initiation Award, an Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research Award, and a Targeted Infusion Project Award; all aligned with her activity tied to biomedical engineering research, education, and outreach. She is also a co-investigator on two Department of Defense grants. Over the past three years, she has been awarded over $1.85M in federal funding for her ground-breaking research at UDC.

“Dr. Lara Thompson’s research of applying engineering principles for gait impairment, will greatly impact and refine clinical diagnostics in this area, as well as the data collected can be envisioned for incorporation into future algorithms to assist clinicians,” said Dr. Devdas Shetty, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a member of the Council of Historically Black College and University Engineering Deans, who co-host the annual BEYA STEM Conference.

Click here to view her research and biomechanics laboratory in this National Science Foundation video.

Thompson said the new biomedical engineering degree program at UDC came about because of the efforts of 100 HBCUs nationwide.

“The University of the District of Columbia is still only one of few to offer a degree program in Biomedical Engineering complemented by the CBRE lab, a distinctive research space,” she said.

Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, a master’s in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology.

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