Biological/Pre-medical Illustration (BPMI) Program at Iowa State University Celebrates 30 Years

BPMI30YearsOctober 2-4, 2014, the Biological/Pre-medical Illustration (BPMI) Program and the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Design at Iowa State University will celebrate the program's 30th Anniversary with a three-day reunion and symposium. The highlight of the three-day event will be the opening of a three-week alumni exhibition, hosted by the College of Design in Gallery 181 and a keynote/university lecture immediately following the opening reception.

This program began as a simple student request and an Iowa State University faculty member's willingness to help fulfill a unique course of study in 1974. The program developed, and continues to maintain, a curriculum that enables Iowa State University BPMI graduates to be eligible for graduate school in medical illustration. 

During the past five years the BPMI Program has been particularly successful in placing its graduates into medical illustration graduate programs. In fact, all four existing North American medical illustration graduate programs accepted BPMI graduates in 2013, a first for the program. These present student successes are a reflection of BPMI alumni who represent the program and who have now established excellent careers in the medical and scientific illustration or related fields.

"Before and After: BPMI 30th Anniversary Student and Alumni Exhibition"

The student exhibition features 136 works of art by 40 pre-BPMI and BPMI students.
Winners in the student category included:

First place: "Into the Woods I & II," Andrea Schmitz, senior in BPMI, Waverly
Second place: "Cold and Unknown," Christina Sidorowych, senior in BPMI, Lake Zurich, Ill.
Third place (tie): "Puzzle Jar," Alexander Mykris, senior in BPMI, Cedar Rapids, and "Three Feathers," Shawna Snyder, senior in BPMI, Cambridge
Honorable mention: "Still Life," Theresa Bryant, freshman in pre-BPMI, Lenexa, Kan.


sinusitisThe alumni exhibition features 102 artworks by 46 entrants.
Alumni winners included:

First place: "Sinusitis," Kate Burnett Galloway, senior medical illustrator at KTB Studios, LLC, Fort Collins, Colo., bachelor of arts in BPMI, 2005

Second place: "Reverse TEE: Reverse Transesophageal Echocardiogram for Visualizing the Epidural Space," David Cheney, medical illustrator at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, bachelor of arts in BPMI, 2005

Third place (tie): "The Library," Cheryl Jacobsen, freelance artist and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, bachelor of science in biological illustration individual major, 1984; and "Toucans," Steve Tank, multimedia artist with iMed Studios, Ames, bachelor of arts in BPMI, 1995

 Read more news about the exhibit

Symposium Highlights

Keynote: Rehabilitation of Body and Spirit: Science, Art, and Technology in Facial Reconstruction

Suzanne Verma, MAMS, CCA
Vice President Elect - International Anaplastology Association
Assistant Professor, Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery
Baylor College of Dentistry
Texas A & M University, Dallas, TX

Alumni Presentations

Joan Kozel
Todd Buck
Dorothia Rohner
Kathryn Keith Staron
Jared Travnicek
Kate Burnett
David Killpack
David Cheney
Kristin Larson
John Petersen
Marie Sena
Amy Dixon
Katelyn McDonald
Jamie Rippke
Kaitlin Lindsay
Emily Rosenthal
Hanna Vetter

Dinner Keynote: Divergence: Forecasting the Future of Biomedical Visualization
Nathaniel (Nick) Klein, MS
Director of Innovation, ISO-FORM, LLC, Ames, IA


BPMI students

Recent gathering of students, faculty and alumni.


History of the Program

In 1974/1975 Professor Harry (Jack) T. Horner, Botany and Plant Pathology, created a course of study under the newly established Individual Major Program in the College of Sciences and Humanities (now the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences-CLAS) to help one of his advisees, an undergraduate transfer student, finish a degree program she had started at the University of Illinois in Medical Illustration. The student had transferred to Iowa State University when her husband became an architecture student in the College of Engineering, but she was dismayed to find that there was no formal ISU major comparable to her undergraduate major at the University of Illinois. However, by taking advantage of the Individual Major Program, and with the assistance of Professor Horner, she was able to successfully graduate with a degree in Biological Illustration.

This student's experience generated excitement among others with similar interests and the Individual Major Program began to receive additional requests for similar programs of study by students coming from CLAS and from the College of Design (COD). Horner quickly realized that he needed a liaison in the COD to assist these students in getting into the art classes they needed and to act as a co-advisor for them. Professor Charles Townsend, Art & Design, accepted the challenge. By the early 1980's the Individual Major Committee objected to accepting a relatively large number of students with individual majors in 'Biological Illustration' because of the similarities in their programs of study. At about the same time, the deans of CLAS, Veterinary Medicine and COD suggested creating a formal undergraduate major in CLAS to accommodate these students. The Horner/Townsend team then undertook a review of the pre-requisites for admissions into graduate programs in medical illustration so they could create a comprehensive individual major in what officially became "biological/pre-medical illustration' or BPMI.

Horner initiated the paperwork in 1982, and its path through the involved departments, CLAS, and university review committees was completed in 1984, when the intercollegiate major was approved by the Iowa Board of Regents. At this time, a steering committee was created to oversee and assist students interested in a degree in biological/premedical illustration (BPMI). The committee was composed of faculty members from three colleges, the Colleges of Design (COD), Sciences and Humanities (CLAS), and Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The original members were Professor Horner, Botany, Committee Chair and Program Executive Officer (PEO); Professor Warren D. Dolphin, Zoology; Professor Charles E. Townsend, Art & Design; Professor Ronald Fenimore, Art & Design; and Dean W. Biechler, medical illustrator, Biomedical Communications, College of Veterinary Medicine. When Professor Fenimore retired, Professor C. Arthur Croyle (COD) was appointed to the advisory committee.

The committee developed, and continues to maintain, a curriculum that would make Iowa State University BPMI graduates eligible for graduate school in medical illustration. The BPMI curriculum was well beyond the number of credits needed for graduation in other majors: 45 credits of science and mathematics, 45 credits of art, and the general education courses. Although the curriculum has been modified to some extent, it remains a rigorous course of study.

In 1989, Horner stepped aside from the PEO position, but remained on the committee. At approximately the same time, Dean Biechler resigned his position in Veterinary Medicine to concentrate full time on his own illustration studio. These changes created uncertainty about the future of the program, and Professor Richard Van Iten, then an Associate Dean in CLAS, became the interim executive officer for BPMI. During Van Iten's two-year tenure, Biechler was hired through CLAS to teach the one formal BPMI course (BPMI 336) while the future of the program was reviewed. CLAS decided to continue the BPMI program and encourage its growth. At this point, Dolphin assumed leadership of BPMI and the committee decided to target a four-year enrollment of between 30–45 students, graduating about 10 per year. Biechler was asked to develop a second course, BPMI 337, to expand the offerings available to BPMI majors.

The targeted enrollment in BPMI was reached in the early 1990's, and has remained relatively stable with a total of 40 to 50 pre-BPMI and BPMI students in any given year. Veterinary anatomist Professor Don Adams was recruited to serve on the BPMI Advisory Committee to reconnect the program with the College of Veterinary Medicine. It also became clear that the use of computers in illustration was exploding and that it was essential to train BPMI majors in computer illustration. The committee recruited Professor Steven Herrnstadt (Art & Design) to help strengthen the technology aspects of the BPMI curriculum and the program was also able to take advantage of the presence of Engineering Animation, Inc. (EAI), a newly established computer illustration company in Ames. As EAI expanded into the area of medical illustration, it hired John Dorn, a BPMI alumnus and recent graduate of the medical illustration program at The Johns Hopkins University University School of Medicine. Dolphin quickly sought out Dorn to teach a computer illustration course (initially under BPMI 494, the special topics designator), which has become an integral part of the curriculum. Dorn also soon joined the Advisory Committee. The final expansion of the BPMI curriculum took the form of the addition of a field illustration course (BPMI 395), a field station course (BPMI/LL 434) at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, and an internship requirement (BPMI 497).

Other important achievements under Dolphin's leadership include the first external review of the program and increased activity by the BPMI Club. The BPMI figure-drawing co-op, which was established in the late 1980's, is a BPMI-Club operated, regularly offered figure drawing opportunity. Biechler is the faculty member in charge of the drawing co-op, but it is organized and run by BPMI students. In the late 1990's, Dolphin established BPMI Professional Day to give seniors an opportunity to prepare their portfolios and present them to underclassmen and others (including BPMI Advisory Committee members and parents and friends of BPMI majors) at the end of each semester. Students with completed internships are also required to present their work at Professional Day. It is the responsibility of the BPMI Club president and the Club faculty advisor (currently Biechler) to arrange this event. Iowa State University hosted the 1997 Midwest Medical Illustrators Association annual meeting and the 1998 Guild of Natural Sciences annual international meeting. Biechler, Professor Croyle and Dorn were all deeply involved in the organization of the latter meeting and were instrumental in its success.

When Dolphin retired in 2003, Professor Croyle (Art & Design) was chosen as his successor. His focus was to prepare the BPMI students for careers involving more use of the computer as a tool in a digital age. Additional computer/electronic media education was implemented into the Program. He also wanted to refocus attention on preparing students for entrance into graduate school. In the first year of his service as the program director, the BPMI Advisory Committee consisted of Biechler, Professor Dolphin, John Dorn, Professor Herrnstadt, Professor Horner, Professor Donald Sakaguchi (GDCB), and Jennifer Owens (CLAS advisor for BPMI majors). Professor Lynn G. Clark (EEOB) joined the Advisory Committee in the spring of 2004. When Professor Croyle stepped down as director in 2008, Clark was appointed as the new program director for a five-year term. Professor Stan Harpole (EEOB) was recruited as a member of the Advisory Committee in 2009. In 2012 Professor Herrnstadt (COD) stepped down from his position on the advisory committee and Elizabeth Zimmerman (CLAS) joined the group as a second advisor.

As BPMI is poised to celebrate 30 years as a formal program at Iowa State University during fall semester of 2014, it is also on the threshold of a new era with the hire of the program's first full-time tenure track faculty member. It is truly an exciting time of growth and change for a program that started as an individual major 30 years ago.