Sean Hansen is an inspiring example of the scientists of the future. This University of Colorado Denver ARCS scholar biochemistry/bioengineering double major graduates in May with several honors and is giving his department’s graduation speech. He has already been accepted to the MS program for neuro/bioengineering. His senior project is developing an auricular transcutaneous Vagus nerve stimulation device (atVNS) for use on research mice. Current methods use a surgical implant, but evidence has shown that non-invasive methods through the inner ear have similar effects. His project is proving the effects are actually the same. The end goal is to shift the lab paradigm from the surgical implant to the non-invasive, easy to use atVNS devices. The mice experiments in his lab are investigating ways to ultimately improve learning and retention rates in humans using VNS. The goal is to help people recover from strokes and other disabling motor impairments more quickly. This research is of particular interest to the U.S. Department of Defense Department which is partly funding the research.
But Sean is involved in much more than this important academic work. He says he has “been the catalyst to initiate a 360-review of the bioengineering undergraduate program to improve the curriculum and program in general” and he is on a new committee with the department chair and faculty members doing this analysis. In the summer of 2020, he founded the Bioengineering Empowerment Program (BEEP). This successful initiative provides opportunities and resources for high school students to gain access to engineering, medicine, and other STEM fields. It connects local high schools and high school students with the bioengineering program at the CU Denver and CU Anschutz campuses. BEEP is community oriented, student-led initiative and works primarily with Title 1 schools and student populations with larger minority demographics, though it is open and free to everyone. BEEP is partnered with multiple CU organizations, Girls Inc. GEAR Up Colorado, Project Lead the Way, Community Resources Inc. and a number of other groups doing similar work. Additionally, BEEP is partnered/affiliated with multiple companies, including Medtronic, Blankenship Research, Stryker, and others.
One of the newest affiliates for BEEP is the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Sean connected with DMNS through ARCS Colorado member Sonnie Talley. BEEP is helping to promote the museum’s virtual materials, events and activities. The museum, in turn, will host the BEEP students in their classes and offer other museum resources, such as private tours of “behind-the-scenes” areas and a free venue to host BEEP events. Sean tells us, "I’m very excited for this partnership and both parties intend (to develop) some custom events together that we can run on an annual basis in the future."
Finally, this multi-talented, community invested scholar is a true Colorado fan. He says, “My favorite activities are hiking, climbing 14ers, kayaking, paddle boarding, snowboarding, and generally spending time in the mountains and nature.”