Dr. Joanna Thomas

MACON – Dr. Joanna Thomas, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in Mercer’s School of Engineering, was named the recipient of this year’s Innovations in Teaching Award, co-sponsored by the Vulcan Materials Company and the University.

The annual prize, presented at this year’s faculty awards ceremony on April 9, recognizes the efforts of a Mercer undergraduate faculty member who successfully provides student engagement learning opportunities in and outside the classroom.

“Dr. Thomas brings passion, energy and a drive for excellence to the classroom and in every role she plays for the School of Engineering,” said Dr. Laura Lackey, dean, professor and Georgia Kaolin Chair of Engineering. “She sets high expectations for her students, and through her outstanding mentorship, they routinely rise to exceed her expectations. Dr. Thomas is a worthy candidate, and I am delighted she was awarded the coveted Innovations in Teaching Award.”

Dr. Thomas joined Mercer’s Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2016. She currently serves as director of undergraduate research for the School of Engineering and coordinator of EGR 107: Introduction to Engineering Design, a required course for all engineering students. Over the past several years she has introduced creative curricular components to both EGR 107 and BME 288: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering.

Dr. Thomas also began an “REU How To” workshop to help students become involved in National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates, resulting in a growing number of engineering students participating in REUs each year since inception in fall 2018.

Dr. Thomas routinely mentors her student researchers as they work on biomedical engineering projects. She has published multiple journal articles with one or more undergraduate student authors. Nine of her students have participated in conference presentations, often as first authors. Additionally, one of her students was selected as both a Goldwater Scholar and an Amgen Scholar.

Some of her former research students are pursuing advanced degrees at institutions such as Washington University, the University of Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Boston University, Wake Forest University and the Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s great to be recognized for my work in classes and with my research students. I’m thankful for the support of my colleagues, Dean Lackey and the administration; together, we’re always striving to make Mercer University a fantastic place to learn and to prepare our students to make a difference in our communities,” said Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Thomas specializes in biomaterials, autoimmune disorders, 3D printing and tissue engineering. She is interested in utilizing biomaterials in the treatment of human disease and tissue regeneration, with particular interest in hepatobiliary diseases because of an unmet need for new or improved treatments for autoimmune liver diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis.

In her lab, she works to design and fabricate 3D-printed devices and testing equipment focusing on new ways to deliver drugs to their cell and tissue targets. She has experience evaluating novel compounds for their efficacy in vitro and in vivo. She also has working knowledge of device design and material biocompatibility from her time in bioprosthetic heart valve research and development. Dr. Thomas’ projects in her lab often involve interdisciplinary collaborations with colleagues in chemistry, mechanical engineering and biomedical sciences.

One example of such work came at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Dr. Thomas and two of her research students designed and manufactured 3D-printed face shields and masks in response to a shortage in local hospitals and clinics.

Dr. Thomas earned her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Kansas State University, Master of Science in chemical engineering from Colorado State University and Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of California San Diego.

About the School of Engineering

Mercer University’s School of Engineering, founded in 1985, offers innovative and academically challenging programs that provide students with a comprehensive education, featuring a solid foundation in mathematics and sciences, a core engineering curriculum, a range of courses in engineering specialties and a strong emphasis on communication technologies. The School is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top three master’s-degree-level engineering schools in the Southeast. Known for its breadth of instruction in its undergraduate program and its five-year joint bachelor’s and master’s degree program, the School combines technical education with hands-on laboratory experience. Mercer engineers can look forward to joining fellow alumni in companies such as Robins Air Force Base, Mercer Engineering Research Center, Northrop Grumman, Georgia Power, Manhattan Associates and Gulfstream Aerospace.

Kyle Sears
Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​