Democratizing Science Through Ethical, Communicative Teaching

4/1/24 DukEngineer Magazine

New faculty member Sonia Bansal brings a whole-student approach to her classes in the biomedical engineering department

headshot of Sonia Bansal
Democratizing Science Through Ethical, Communicative Teaching

With a passion for teaching, Sonia Bansal strives to make a difference in her students’ lives and create “light bulb” moments for everyone in her classroom. 

This past summer, Bansal joined Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering as an assistant professor of the practice, a professor who focuses on teaching. Currently, she teaches courses in first-year design, biomaterials, and mechanics.  

Born and raised in New York, Bansal always wanted to be a teacher. She discovered her love of teaching young as a peer-tutor at the age of 15, and it only grew while she taught SAT classes as an undergraduate at Columbia University.

After graduation, Bansal pursued her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania with teaching in mind. She graduated from UPenn with expertise in orthopedic biomechanics and biomaterials before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Delaware. Then, despite being a “northeast city kind of gal,” having spent her entire life north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Duke’s high level of scholarship and excellence brought Bansal to the south.

The move allowed Bansal to pursue teaching as well as research to feed her joy in working with others, mentoring young adults, and making science and learning equitable for all.

To me, teaching is an opportunity to democratize science, because we’re making sure that everyone has equal access to learning.

Sonia Bansal Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering

“Teaching my class is a constant example of how we can make science accessible for others,” Bansal said. “To me, teaching is an opportunity to democratize science, because we’re making sure that everyone has equal access to learning.”

Bansal also said that her favorite part of teaching is being able to positively impact her students’ educational careers and help them become confident in their capabilities as young scientists. 

“When something clicks for students, that’s when you realize that you’ve made a difference,” Bansal said. “One more person feels like they belong in STEM now because they understand this fundamental concept in the field.”

In her classroom, Bansal prioritizes fostering a community-driven educational environment where peer-learning, group-work, and collaboration are at its core. She said that she believes engineering is a “team sport” and wants her students to be comfortable working together, communicating with each other, keeping open-minds, and actively solving problems. 

In her free time, Sonia Bansal enjoys hanging out with her dog, Charlie

While Bansal said she wants to prepare her students to be able to gain jobs or attend graduate programs that they are “genuinely excited and passionate about,” she also wants to create honest and well-rounded engineers that are ready for any career path. 

“I want to help develop ethical engineers, team focused engineers, engineers who can communicate,” Bansal said. “It’s about developing that critical thinking and being able to justify your choices and doing that in a way that is clear and honest. Communication in general, I think, is undervalued in a lot of engineering programs.”

As her first year at Duke comes to a close, Bansal said that she feels “very, very lucky” in her new role. 

“I’m excited to be here, and the BME program is incredible,” Bansal said. “The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is my colleagues are so giving with their time. Whenever I have a question about a class or research, everyone’s willing to talk with me and work through things, and everyone’s just very generous with their time and expertise, which I think is an incredibly special thing.”

Zoe Sinclair is a Pratt Marketing and Communications intern who is studying Journalism at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

2024 DukEngineer Magazine