URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – Each spring, thousands of students walk the stage at U of I. But it’s not every year that the world’s first engineering-based medical school gets to watch its very first class graduate.

“On that Illinois patch on that side of our white coats, says ‘future physician innovators.’ Today, we become physician innovators,” Dr. Kenny Leung, a 2022 graduate of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine said.

Physician innovators: that’s what the Carle Illinois aims to create with its unique, engineering-based curriculum. 23 of them became doctors Sunday.

“Let’s imagine how we would like healthcare to be like and strive to make it a reality,” Leung said.

The 2022 convocation ceremony was the first of many send-offs for a group that hopes to revolutionize healthcare. One of the ways they do that is through capstone projects. Students identify a problem in medicine, design a solution, and bring those ideas to life.

“We saw patients who are always in the hospital. They’re there for a week just to monitor whether they have a seizure or not,” Leung said.

Leung wanted to make it easier for epilepsy patients to diagnose seizures without disrupting their daily lives. So, his capstone project was a baseball cap monitoring device called “Epicap.”

“As an engineer, we’re often in a bubble, and I wanted to get out of that bubble. So, what is more challenging than the route to become a medical doctor?” he said.

Chancellor Robert Jones spoke at the ceremony about another challenge the class of 2022 faced: medical school during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The need for your service is especially urgent as you begin your medical careers in a world that has been so disrupted and damaged by this global pandemic,” he said.

Many of the graduates’ residency programs are scattered across the country, but two will stay here at Carle.

“I met my significant other here; she’s from Central Illinois. Just being at Memorial Stadium on Saturdays, and seeing people I know – it’s just so exciting,” Dr. Andrew Chang, a Carle Illinois graduate said.

Four years ago, Carle Illinois welcomed students for the first time. It was an extra special day for one graduate – she just finished her eighth year at the U of I.

“It was a different mood than my undergraduate graduation in 2018 from bioengineering, but still a day to celebrate,” Dr. Elizabeth Woodburn, a 2022 Carle Illinois graduate said.

The college also celebrated a new dean. Dr. Mark Cohen said he’s looking forward to continuing the work of combining technology and healthcare.

“I think this will be a college that’s going to be leading a lot of that change, and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” Cohen said.

He said it’s been great to watch the college grow over the years, and it’s an honor to send the graduates off into the next stage of their careers.