Throughout 2016-17, BioE seniors Erin Ichinotsubo, Brianna McIntosh and Nina Reese have been collecting first-person accounts from their fellow students. With “Humans of UW Bioengineering,” the team has shared stories of students’ experience in the BioE major and their advice for prospective students. The stories have been published weekly on the department’s website and Facebook page.
Erin, Brianna and Nina started their project as part of the BioE Honors Seminar, a service learning experience required for seniors to earn departmental honors at graduation. They connected over a common realization: there was little information available to learn about life in the major, and opportunities available to BioE students.
As freshmen and sophomores, Erin, Brianna and Nina shared a similar experience of not knowing what the day-to-day life of a BioE student was like. “I wished there were honest student stories about the lives of bioengineers,” Erin explains. “I didn’t know who in the department to ask.” Having information about the different paths through the major and the breadth of careers available to BioE graduates would also have been helpful. “Having more ideas about what could be done with a BioE degree would have given me a better sense of direction when I joined the major,” says Brianna. Nina agrees, “If I had been able to learn about the major from older students I could have felt more confident about my decision to join the program.”
The team wanted to create a resource that could help prospective students find the answers to the questions they themselves had when they entered the major. They also wished to celebrate the accomplishments of their peers, and to show how BioE students can connect to the UW community outside the classroom. “I hoped to show that we are more than just smart students,” Erin says. Brianna agrees, “There’s so much more to everyone than their classes, and we wanted to showcase the diversity of our department.”
Throughout the project, the team has enjoyed getting to know their fellow classmates better, and learning more about what inspired them to choose BioE. “It really showed the diversity within our community, both in backgrounds and future plans,” Brianna explains. “We loved getting to share that with other people.” They hope that other students will continue the project in the future to offer inspiration and advice to prospective students.
We recently caught up with Erin, Brianna and Nina to learn more about their motivation for pursuing BioE, their UW experience and their plans for after graduation.
“Both of my parents are engineers, my dad in civil and mom in environmental. I found myself excelling in math and science in high school, and found it hard to dispute my innate disposition as an analytical problem solver. I also found time to volunteer in hospitals over the summer. Through those experiences, I knew I wanted to be involved in the medical field; and with my engineering genes, bioengineering seemed to be a natural choice for me.
I am focusing on the Molecular and Materials concentration within the major. I found a passion for biochemistry and drug therapies in the courses I took and in the team projects I contributed to. To pursue my interest in therapeutics, I joined a molecular and cellular engineering research lab under Dr. Patrick Stayton, where I study the use of polymer conjugates to facilitate the delivery of chemotherapies.
I enjoy the closeness of BioE. With the small cohort sizes, I was able to make genuine friendships and connections with students, professors and faculty members. They really want to see you succeed and provide so many opportunities to help you. I think this makes the department unique and special.
Outside of BioE, I’m an active member of the UW Hawaii Club, Hui Hoaloha ‘Ulana. I have performed hula and Tahitian dances each year at the annual luau to share the aloha spirit with the city of Seattle. I think it’s important to balance these extracurricular activities with the bioengineering major because it allows us to grow outside the classroom.
My passion for therapeutics and compassion for patients led me to pursue a career in pharmacy. I am excited to begin this new journey at the UW School of Pharmacy in the fall.
With Humans of UW Bioengineering, I wanted to create a platform for our stories to be heard. I hope that students continue to share their experiences even after we graduate.”
“I’ve always liked problem solving and I think engineering in general provides a platform for design and creative solutions. The problems that interests me are biomedical ones, and engineering was a way to learn how to approach and solve a problem rather than just learning about the problem itself. The major has a lot of breadth, and since I didn’t know what I was specifically interested in it allowed me to explore a variety of topics.
My focus in the major is Cells, Tissue and Systems. I work in Dr. Wendy Thomas’s lab with bacterial adhesion proteins. My senior capstone project is to engineer a light-activated binding protein. Protein engineering is something I’m really enthusiastic about, for both therapeutic and diagnostic applications.
I’ve really enjoyed the close-knit community that BioE fosters. The small class lets us get to know our professors and each other better. It really makes UW feel smaller. I also like the different research opportunities in the department; everyone is working on such different topics so there is always something that fits your interests.
Following graduation, I’m going to graduate school to get a Ph.D. focusing on cancer biology at Stanford. After that, I plan on joining a biotech company to work on developing cancer therapeutics.
With this project, we really wanted to highlight all the interesting things students are doing and show some of the personality of the department. We hope that prospective students learn from our advice and get a better sense of what being a bioengineer entails.”
“In high school I really enjoyed math and science, and I started getting interested in the medical field. When I started looking into bioengineering, and especially when I took BIOEN 215 (Bioengineering Problem Solving), I learned about the wide range of things that bioengineers can do. The idea of identifying a need and figuring out solutions to fulfill it was really appealing to me. I wanted to have the opportunity to design solutions for real problems.
My focus in the major is in Molecular and Materials. I work in a UW Medicine epigenetics lab under Dr. Karol Bomsztyk. My capstone project is to identify pharmacological pathways to transcriptionally activate latent HIV.
I enjoy how close-knit the cohorts are in BioE. A lot of the courses we take are really hard, but it really helps when you know there’s a ton of other students who are willing to work together to help each other out.
Going into college, I knew that I really wanted to study abroad. I did Semester at Sea during the fall of my sophomore year and I did a research internship in Austria the summer after my junior year. I knew I would have to carefully plan if I was going into a major as structured as BioE is, and in order to finish all the prerequisites for BioE, there were a few quarters where I was taking 18 credits. It was a lot tougher to manage, but it was definitely worth it.
I will be working at Just Biotherapeutics after I graduate. I’m really interested in going into the biotech field and using my bioengineering skills to develop products that help patients.
Through this project, we wanted to give others a look into what it’s like to be a part of BioE. Even though we all take most of the same classes, we all have different interests and are involved in different activities. We have different plans for what we want to do with our BioE degree.”