Melanie Wallace is an alum of the Lammerding Lab, now improving health and quality of life through innovation at 23andMe. Read more about Making an impact through genetic health innovation and education
Ana Elhom, B.S. 2021
Hometown: Potomac, MD
BME Degree Program: B.S. in BME with a concentration in Molecular, Cellular and Systems Engineering (MCSE)
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Independent Project in the Butcher Lab
Awards/honors: Dean’s List Fall 2020, 2021; Undergraduate Excellence in Leadership Award
Ever since taking first place at a popsicle bridge contest in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. Cornell combined everything I wanted in a place I would call home for the next four years due to its word-class college of engineering, beautiful campus and division 1 tennis.
What made me choose BME as my major was my STEM capstone project in high school where I created a 3D-printed solar-powered prosthetic hand. During the project search phase of this yearlong project, I came across the cutting-edge research that was being done for bionic hands which not only sparked my project idea but hooked me on biomedical engineering. I already loved biology in high school and being able to apply that foundation to devices that would be able to improve the daily life of an individual is what ultimately drew me to pursue BME as a major at Cornell.
How did you decide on your BME concentration, Molecular, Cellular and Systems Engineering (MCSE)?
I decided to pursue MCSE as my concentration due to the courses offered for the concentration and the skills that they would teach me. I knew that I wanted to have a deeper understanding of computer science and data modeling therefore MCSE was the right fit for me due to classes like BME 3110 and BTRY 4381.
What do you think are some of the most important skills you’ve learned while pursuing this major?
One of the most important skills I have learned while pursuing this major other than how to code or CAD, is problem solving. BME has taught me how to find answers to problems that I had no clue how to tackle at the beginning and to not be intimidated by a project that requires a lot of new skills. I think this was most prevalent for me during my independent research project with Professor Butcher where I am creating a device that can detect pre-mature birth probability. At the beginning of taking on this project, I had minimal electrical engineering experience and prototyping experience, but now, two years later, I know how to create a custom PCB, how to CAD an entire portion of the device and how to understand all the mechanical components needed to run the system.
What was it like to pursue and finish your degree during the pandemic?
Finishing my BME degree during the pandemic has been difficult due to the reduced interaction with my classmates, not being able to attend lecture in person and zoom fatigue. But with that said it has forced me to be more creative with how I schedule my day and how I run my project team meetings. Additionally, it has allowed me to spend more time with my family and deepen my friendships.
What advice might you give other students considering BME?
I think the best advice I could give to any student considering BME is to find a group of friends in this major that you enjoy hanging out with and working with. This major is extremely rewarding but that does not come without hard work, having friends that you can sit with to finish those weekly problem sets or to even ask a question about a concept you did not understand in lecture makes the experience of this major even better.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
One of my interests outside of BME is tennis which is a sport I have been playing since I was 4 years old. I was recruited onto the Varsity Tennis Team and played my first two years on the team where I enjoyed competing at the division 1 level and representing Cornell. Another one of my interests outside of BME is my project team Engineering World Health where we create biomedical devices for resource constrained settings. This has been a passion of mine since my high school STEM capstone project and it has been so exciting to be able to continue working on projects like this throughout my college experience. Lastly, one interest related to BME is understanding how pharmaceutical companies work and how they can develop the vaccines and medications necessary to treat so many individuals around the world. My time as a technical operations intern at Merck during the summer of 2020 was especially interesting because I was able to understand how Merck’s manufacturing division produced their most common vaccines, like their vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, and how they were transitioning as a company to potentially tackle producing a COVID-19 vaccine.
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience?
Two experiences that stand out to me during my Cornell BME experience, is my independent project with Professor Butcher and my time as Integrative Design Sub-Team Lead at EWH. The independent project I have now been working on for two years has allowed me to combine everything I have learned from this major into one device which can detect premature birth probability. It was one of the first times where I was able to readily apply all the skills I had been taught in my classes and it also pushed me to have to learn other skills outside of my major and even my comfort zone. Additionally, my time as Integrative Design Sub-Team lead for EWH allowed me to learn how to lead a group of 9 students in creating 3D printable occupational therapy devices and taught me how to plan out a project timeline efficiently. From both of these rich experiences, I have been able to learn a lot about myself but also see my BME degree in action.
What’s the next step for you?
The next step for me after Cornell is being a Decision Analytics Associate at ZS Associates which is a consulting company that works with a wide array of clients including many pharmaceutical and biotech companies. What led me in this direction is my interest in being at the intersection of business and biomedical engineering. I want to be able to understand how these pharmaceutical and biotech companies work and what steps they need to take to better reach their consumers with the products they are attempting to sell. Ultimately, what drew me to consulting was the ability to merge my creativity, interest in business and my communication as well as biomedical engineering skills.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King Jr.