Jayleen Leon is a junior in the Department of Bioengineering at UW pursuing the independent research capstone track. For her research project, she is optimizing a kidney-on-a-chip device under the guidance of Dr. Edward Kelly and Dr. Ying Zheng.
Outside of school, Jayleen is restarting BioInspire, a BioE club that is focused on nurturing inclusivity and diversity in the department. She has worked as a resident assistant (RA) for the engineering community and as a housing ambassador. Jayleen is also very involved in the Genome ALVA project, which admits students from underrepresented backgrounds and communities who are interested in stem. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school.
“I came into BioE in 2015 as a direct admit. My first year at UW, I was struggling. I did not feel like I knew what I was doing. I did not feel like I belonged because there were not a lot of people who were like me in terms of racial and cultural identities, or even from the area where I am from. I came from a small town in Eastern Washington that was mostly Hispanic. This made me feel like it was a mistake that I was in BioE or that I was the diversity add. The fact that some people said that I was admitted into BioE because of some diversity quota did not help. But I reminded myself that UW does not even do that, and I am here because I earned it.
I needed to focus on something else. I stayed in school, but during my sophomore year I did not take BioE pre-requisite courses that I needed. Instead, I focused on bettering myself, which included going to therapy. Overall, I prioritized what I needed, not what was expected out of me as a BioE student. I was lucky enough to be close to Dr. Alyssa Taylor and talk to her about what I was going through since the beginning. I really like that BioE has faculty members that really care for you. They are not just here to just pass you through. They really care for you as a person, want to help you, and see you grow. I eventually got back on track. I am taking courses out of order and graduating with the junior instead of senior cohort.
One thing that has been a constant for me throughout my undergraduate career is research. I got into my lab the summer before my freshman year through the Genome ALVA project, and I have done research ever since. I love research. I like that it’s hands-on. I like that you have a lot of autonomy and people around you are there to help and foster innovation. Everyone is on the front line of science. Doing research changed my whole path. I came into UW thinking that I wanted to be pre-med. My goal is impacting the most people in a positive way. While I can help people by being a doctor, I realize that I can spend my whole life researching, and if I can come up with one discovery that can help the world, I can help a lot more people.
Overall, the biggest takeaway from my time at UW has been that everyone has their own path and you need to stop comparing yourself to other people. At UW, I think you are so used to competition and everyone being a very highly achieving student, that you feel bad if you are considered behind. I took an extra year to prioritize my mental health and I am grateful for that. At first, I did feel bad because I would compare myself to other people. Now I realize that I have to look out for what’s best for me, not necessarily what is the standard. Something that everyone should consider is that you need to prioritize what’s important for you and take care of yourself. You are here for you. You are not here to please people. Who cares how long it takes you? Who cares what happens in the process? You are doing what is best for you, go for it!”