Engineering as a path to improve drug costs and delivery

Kaelyn Gaza

Kaelyn Gaza, Undergraduate Senior

Hometown: Kennett Square, PA    
BME Degree Program: B.S. in biomedical engineering '23, concentrating in biomaterials and drug delivery (BMDD)

Why Cornell?

Senior design team 'Aquaporin' ideating together in the BME design lab
Gaza (far right) with her senior design team 'Aquaporin' ideating together in the BME design lab.

The Cornell community is diverse not only in terms of background but also expertise and interest, which has helped push and deepen the way I analyze issues. Furthermore, Cornell Engineering has stood out in its support of students by encouraging collaboration, community and academic support systems. My time at Cornell has been filled with thought-provoking and unexpected conversations, encounters and experiences.

Why BME?

Class takes a trip to the Cornell Dairy Bar
Gaza (far left) with BME 1050 class at the Cornell dairy bar.

I wanted to challenge myself to learn classical engineering concepts, such as electronics and fluid modelling, alongside the core science and math courses. The small class sizes in BME also afforded a greater sense of community not only with my peers, but also with the professors and teaching staff, many of whom I have been lucky to get to know. BME's unique perspective on analyzing the body and biological systems has been deeply fascinating to explore with this community.

How did you decide to concentrate in BMDD? 

I chose to concentrate in biomaterials and drug delivery because of my interest in chemistry as a core science and my belief in the importance of its applications in BME. I have always been most fascinated by chemistry and its use in both small reactions and in larger materials in BMDD was incredibly alluring to me. Furthermore, the potential of BMMD applications to impact drug prices and availability is personally meaningful to me, a chronically-ill person frequently confronted with high drug prices and notable drug reactions and interactions. 

Important skills or lessons you’ve learned while pursuing this major?

Kaelyn Gaza participates in BME Improv workshop (2022)
Gaza participates in a improvisation workshop (2021) in which students learn creative problem-solving through theater techniques.

Although the rigorous math, physics, and chemistry skills taught in the curriculum are useful, the most notable thing that the BME major has given me is a set of framing skills for tackling engineering problems from start to finish. Early on in my courses, I learned how to logically break down problems from multiple-step problems to sub-parts, or from situations to organized lists of requirements. In later, upper-level courses, I learned the skill of nimble pivoting to new strategies and ideas and creativity in problem solving, a stark contrast to the rote processes seen in high school or earlier classes. All of my classes helped me develop my intuition for whether the solution to a problem was right or at least made sense

Any advice for students considering BME?

As a peer advisor for ENGRG 1050 (Engineering Seminar, a course for incoming students), I always tell my students trying to decide if they should affiliate with BME that majoring in BME is a bonding experience. The majority of classes are so collaborative, and the experience of doing late-night problem sets or working in the lab together really brings you together with your classmates.

Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?

Kaelyn Gaza interned at Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children
Kaelyn Gaza outside the employee entrance of Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, where she interned for two summers.

I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Aaron Chidekel’s team of pediatric pulmonologists at Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. My internship started the summer of 2020 during the pandemic as a remote research position that involved studying data from overnight sleep studies to better understand sleep apnea in very young children with underlying genetic conditions. I was fortunate enough to continue working with that team for the next year in-person. Not only was I able to continue my research, but I also was able to go into the clinic with my mentors, where I had an amazing time meeting with patients and helping in their care. I was also able to publish a paper on my work, which I never expected to do as an undergraduate!

At Cornell, I have also been involved in several volunteering organizations. One of my most fulfilling roles was as a peer advisor. In that position, I was able to work with several classes of freshman engineering students and their faculty advisors to help ease their transition to Cornell. Being able to connect with incoming students and watch their growth over the past few years has been absolutely wonderful. Plus, navigating that role during the pandemic was incredibly interesting, and definitely helped me polish my impromptu lecturing skills when external lecturers could no longer visit. These pivots were an interesting challenge!

What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far?

A memorable experience from my time at Cornell happened at the beginning of this year, when my engineering skills were put to the test in a battle with mice. While visiting a friend, I met two girls who were struggling to catch mice in their room with traps. The girls knew that the mice were coming in under their heater, which was inset into their wall. Using a shoestring from one of the girl’s boots, I measured the area and then cut out several strips of cardboard from an empty box. Alternating layers of paper towel, cardboard, and packing tape, we assembled and installed the cardboard block barrier. While my initial prediction was that the device could keep the mice out for two hours, it managed to block their entry for two whole days before the barrier was removed for a more permanent solution.

What’s the next step for you?

I'll be returning to Cornell in the fall as a master’s student, pursuing an M.Eng. in BME. For a notable portion of my undergraduate years, I wanted to follow the pre-medical track and go to medical school, but I fell in love with the idea of doing engineering all day long. The master’s program seems like a fantastic way to help me pivot and gain more experience with real industry partners before heading off into the work force.

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