Alex Cruz is a doctoral student in biomedical engineering from New Jersey. He studies tissue engineering approaches to calcific aortic valve disease under the guidance of Jonathan Butcher at Cornell. Read more about Using tissue engineering approaches to better understand cardiovascular disease
James Bennett, M.Eng. Student
Hometown: Greensboro, NC
BME Degree Program: M.Eng. 2021, MBA 2022
Numerous factors brought me to Cornell. In addition to its outstanding name recognition, Cornell offers one of the top-ranked BME M.Eng. programs in the country. I desired a program that would allow me to specialize in medical device design and development and Cornell’s program provided the best opportunity to do that. Cornell also offers a One-Year accelerated MBA program to people who have already earned a professional degree, including students who have graduated from the BME M.Eng. program. By coming to Cornell, I could earn two Ivy League Master’s degrees in two years and launch my career as a successful leader in the biotech industry. It was and is the perfect place for me.
Why the BME M.Eng.?
I pursued a BME M.Eng. degree because I want to improve people’s quality of life through medical devices. I believe gaining in-depth knowledge of the life cycle of a biomedical device from concept to commercialization and enhancing my ability to identify and address unmet healthcare needs is critical in achieving my goal. The M.Eng. degree would also increase my candidacy for higher-level positions and accelerate my career growth, thus allowing me to thrive in the biomedical field.
What is your project focus and why is it important?
The primary method through which infants learn is environmental interaction. This is achieved mainly via independent mobility in the form of crawling and/or walking. In typically developing infants, the initiation of independent mobility is accompanied by emotional, perceptual, cognitive, and social behavior development. However, young children with disabilities that limit their ability to move independently have been found to demonstrate apathetic behavior, depressed motivation, and display a lack of dependence, curiosity, and confidence. Providing powered independent mobility devices to these children with mobility impairments may prevent these negative effects from developing. Unfortunately, powered wheelchairs are typically not prescribed to children younger than 3 years old and thus this population is deprived of the developmental benefits associated with independent mobility. Therefore, my design project is developing a powered independent mobility device for children younger than 3 years old with mobility delays or impairments that enables environmental interaction.
What opportunities has your time at Cornell given you so far?
Due to COVID-19, I have been taking most of my courses online and there have been very few opportunities to interact with my peers and professors in person. However, Cornell has still provided an excellent environment for networking through speaker seminars, resume workshops, and an amazing alumni network.
What has been your favorite class or experience so far and why?
My favorite class has surprisingly been a medical device regulatory affairs course. While learning the several different pathways an innovator can take to get their medical device to market through the FDA might not sound like the most intriguing or interesting subject matter, what made the class my favorite was the instructor, Dr. Michael Drues. He was an excellent teacher who taught us how to think, not what to think. He made the course thought-provoking and engaging by teaching us why each pathway was created and how we could modify a device to be eligible for each one instead of having us memorize the listed pathways from the FDA’s website.
Any hobbies or interests outside of your scholarship?
I am a huge outdoors person so hiking, camping, skiing, and especially playing Spikeball in the parks have been great ways to relax and have some fun. Buttermilk Falls and Taughannock Falls are both amazing for day hikes but Taughannock falls has the better view in my opinion. Ithaca also has many bars and breweries that I would recommend checking out (especially Ithaca Beer Company)!
What advice might you give other students considering biomedical engineering as a field of study?
The best advice I have to give students who are considering biomedical engineering is to actually talk to biomedical engineers. Reach out and ask them what their background is, where they are now, what paths they took to get there, what their daily responsibilities are, etc. As biomedical engineering is such a vast field, ranging from patent law to pharmaceuticals, make sure to talk to people of varying positions and industries to gain a better understanding of the field of study and to see if it is appealing to you. Learning what you don’t want to do is equally as important as learning what you would like to do.
My next piece of advice is NETWORKING! Networking is so much more than going on LinkedIn and cold calling an alumnus you don’t know asking for a job. Alumni are more than happy to have a conversation with you and give helpful career advice, recommendations, or just talk about what steps they took to get to where they are now. Networking is an incredibly useful tool and the phrase “I am a Cornell student looking for advice” will open more doors than you think.
Lastly, do what interests you. If you go into a career for any other reason you will end up being miserable.
What’s the next step for you after Cornell?
Even before I graduate from the BME M.Eng. program I will be starting the Johnson One-Year MBA program. After I am finally out of graduate school, I will be looking to join a medical device company. I plan on using my M.Eng. degree to enter as a professional engineer and learn the technical details behind the company. I will then use my MBA degree to slowly transition to more leadership and management positions, eventually becoming an executive.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“Life is not about how many times you fall down. It's about how many times you get back up.”