"I’m developing vaccines that better mimic pathogens and can activate the memory of the immune system as if it was the real thing, derived from harmless bacteria. These types of vaccines are very versatile, safe, and easy to produce. My particular project focuses on combining different immune activators on one molecule to enhance the immune response." Read more about Mariela Rivera-De Jesús
Grant Feuer, B.S. '20
Hometown: Woodbury, MN
BME Degree Program: BS in biomedical engineering with concentration in Molecular/Cellular/Systems Engineering
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Wiesner Group
Awards/honors received at Cornell: Dean’s List, Inducted into 400 Club twice, Tau Beta Pi
The schools that I narrowed my decision down to were Washington University in St. Louis, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell. I visited all of them and found that I didn’t much care for Baltimore or St. Louis. Additionally, the fact that the BME program was so new at Cornell was actually a selling point for me. It meant that we would probably be worked a lot harder than at peer institutions as Cornell tried to prove that their BME students were just as good or better than those at peer institutions. The youth of the program also meant that we would have the opportunity to help shape the program. It didn’t hurt that Cornell’s campus was the most beautiful of every school I visited.
I have wanted to be a surgeon for pretty much as long as I can remember. But I wanted something that would set me apart from the traditional biology and chemistry majors who apply to medical school. On top of that, the future of medicine relies heavily on technological advancements and so I thought it would be really cool to be involved in the development of the technology AND be the one to actually use it in a healthcare setting. I figured I wouldn’t be happy if I had to choose one side of healthcare: to develop the technology and not use it or to use the technology but not know how it works. So I have chosen to do both.
How did you decide on your BME concentration Molecular/Cellular/Systems Engineering (MCSE)?
This was driven heavily by my interest in medicine. While all of the concentrations definitely related to human health, I found MCSE to be most relevant to my goal of attending medical school because of the focus on cells and tissues and how things go wrong and what can be done to fix it. Additionally, this concentration is unique in that it allows you to take classes across different concentrations and have them count for your requirements, so I have been able to take some biomaterials classes as well.
What do you think are some of the most important skills you’ve learned while pursuing this major?
The ability to effectively use google! So often we have problems on homework that no one seems to understand and the textbooks often give very dry, esoteric explanations. Over my time here, I’ve had to get really good at making creative google searches to isolate the information I need! I’ve also learned to be more patient with myself and others. Some of the assignments, exams, and labs are extremely difficult and more than a little frustrating. It’s very easy to get angry at yourself or others when you don’t understand. Over 4 years I have learned that sometimes you just have to take a step back and cool down. It also isn’t fair to get angry at yourself for not understanding something as long as you’ve been putting in the work to try and learn something. If everything was easy to grasp there wouldn’t be much of a need for higher education! So I would say making really good google searches, being more patient with myself and others, and the ability to persevere in difficult times have been some of the major skills I’ve learned.
What are some of the skills you think someone should possess in order to do well in this major?
Drive to succeed, reasoning skills, critical thinking, and the ability to make really good google searches!
What advice might you give other students considering BME?
Never, ever be afraid to ask for help. There are so many resources in place at Cornell to help you succeed and there is no shame in getting help to be successful. It’s something I’ve always struggled with because asking for help means showing vulnerability and admitting that you don’t understand something. But I’ve come to learn over four years that no one knows everything and while it may seem that some of your peers know far more than you, I guarantee you have knowledge that they don’t. If everyone is willing to ask for help, then everyone’s knowledge increases.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
Every summer I try to go somewhere different to increase my worldview so I have worked in many different labs. Last summer I was in Austria. Outside of class I am involved in the Wiesner research group, which works with nanoparticles. I am also a starter on the Cornell Polo Team and I served as President last year. I am also a TA for Professor Cosgrove’s Cellular Systems Biology class.
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
Professor Cosgrove’s class is probably the best class I’ve taken in the BME curriculum. He’s such a great guy and truly cares about the success of all of his students. I also had a pretty weak background in coding and his class improved my ability to write code for simulations and troubleshoot. Additionally, I’ve seen some of these signaling cascades in other biology classes before, but it is so hard to imagine what is happening with all of these feedback loops. I thought it was so cool that we learned how to simulate these cascades so that by changing some initial concentrations upstream we can see how the entire cascade responds and even look at the time dependent behavior of individual components.
What’s the next step for you and who or what has led you in this direction?
Starting this summer I will be working in New York City at the Tisch Multiple Sclerosis Research Institute for a period of two years as I round out my application before applying to medical school. I am taking this path because I want to spend more time doing research to decide if I want to be an MD or an MD/PhD. It also gives me an opportunity to spend more time volunteering and shadowing before entering medical school.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
One of my heroes growing up was Jonas Salk, the man who developed the polio vaccine. When he was asked who owned the vaccine he said that there wouldn’t be a patent. “Could you patent the sun?” This quote reminds me that my desire to enter medicine is based on my extreme interest in the field and my longing to improve the health and lives of those around me, not on making obscene amounts of money.