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Aria R. Henderson, Ph.D. Student
Hometown: Orange Park, FL
BME Degree Program: PhD
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Esak (Isaac) Lee, PhD
Awards/honors: Mong Junior Cornell Neurotech Fellow
Why did you choose biomedical engineering?
I’ve always been interested in solving puzzles and problems, and my interest in biology began in middle school when I was fostering a litter of five kittens with their mother and was able to deduce the genetics behind their coloring and predict the father’s coat color. During high school, I became interested in learning more about the brain, and I realized that biomedical engineering combined my interests in biology—especially neurobiology—and solving puzzles/problems. I also really enjoy helping people, and biomedical research has the opportunity to help both current/future patients and the progression of science.
What is your concentration/area of focus and why is it important?
I work in the “organ-on-chip” field, which aims to recreate human physiology using human cells in a small plastic device. Creating robust models using human cells can (1) reduce the use of animals in research, (2) allow for more personalized medicine by using patient-specific cells and testing the patient’s model before treating the patient, and (3) accelerate the process of discovering a new treatment by allowing testing with human cells/physiology earlier in the research process, meaning before clinical trials. Within the organ-on-chip field, I work on vessels throughout our body and especially in our brain, in an attempt to reduce neurodegeneration from diseases such as Alzheimer’s or improve neuroregeneration, like after a traumatic injury.
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
The sense of community at Cornell is amazing. Individuals from every background are supported through clubs and organizations to make everyone feel welcome and equitably included. Students, administrative staff, and faculty members all put in effort to make sure that all members of the department are thriving and emotionally supported, which has been especially important during the difficult year that was 2020.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
After serving as one of the outreach chairs for our graduate student chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, I am now serving as the Communications Director for 2021. I also am the Programming Director for our Biomedical Engineering Women’s group (BMEW) for 2021. Outside of the department, I have served as a mentor with both the CU EMPower and the NSF-funded New Visions Engineering programs for the past two years, with CU EMPower working with first year undergraduate and graduate students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEM and New Visions Engineering working with high school seniors in a rigorous engineering curriculum at Cornell. I also virtually tutor local fifth grade students through the REACH program and have served as a GRASSHOPR fellow providing engineering-related enrichment curricula to local students. Beyond Cornell, I’ve also been an animal rescue volunteer for 13 years, and I’m a certified group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise.
What advice might you give other students considering Cornell or BME?
The biggest thing I learned is not to overextend yourself. It’s better to do a few things excellently than to half-do many things. That’s applicable for every school and every major, but it’s especially important to keep in mind while studying biomedical engineering at Cornell.
What’s the next step for you ?
My ultimate goal is to become a biomedical engineering professor with both research and teaching responsibilities. It sounds cheesy, but I want to help solve the biomedical problems of today while training the engineers of tomorrow.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“Keep moving forward!” --from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons