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
John Montani, M.Eng. Student
Hometown: Milford, MA
BME Degree Program: M.Eng.
As an undergraduate at Bucknell University, I had the opportunity to attend the BMES Annual Meetings in Atlanta, GA and Philadelphia, PA. I always planned on furthering my education, so I used these meetings to network with graduate school administrators and learn about their programs. Cornell University had been on my radar since day one because of its reputation as a top-notch engineering institute. I sought out Cornell’s booth at the conference and talked extensively to Dr. de Faria and Belinda Floyd about the university and program. They emphasized how students in the BME M.Eng. program have the freedom to cater their curriculum to match their interests and career aspirations. From these conversations, I knew that Cornell was the right fit for me. The fact that Cornell offers a dual MBA/M.Eng. program further solidified my decision to attend.
Why the BME M.Eng.?
As I progressed through my undergraduate program, I realized that the biomedical engineering topics discussed in my classes were just the beginning. This realization motivated me to continue my engineering education and deepen my knowledge of the field. More specifically, I wanted to gain a better understanding of novel research fields – stem cell and tissue engineering – and factors involved in the product development process – reimbursement, FDA regulation, project management methodologies, etc. I knew that this additional knowledge would not only help me develop a more holistic understanding of the discipline, but it would also prepare me professionally for a career in the medtech industry.
What is your project focus and why is it important?
My design team is working on a project with an external company to investigate pain. Pain is a highly subjective experience that afflicts all people at some point during their lives. This subjectivity makes pain assessment and management extremely complicated, and current techniques have proven faulty in the clinical setting. To better understand the complexities of this issue, my group has been tasked with researching how people experience and express pain. With this research, we intend on developing a system that aids in the pain assessment and management process to help improve clinical outcomes for patients.
What opportunities has your time at Cornell given you so far?
To put it simply, Cornell has provided me the opportunity to continue my education and develop professionally during unprecedented times. I entered the M.Eng. program in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges posed by the virus, Cornell has adapted its educational system to provide a safe and structured academic experience. While the experience is undeniably different, the program is no less valuable. I continue to have access to the school’s world-renowned faculty, who have helped me learn and develop at a pace I never thought possible, and I have built amazing relationships with my classmates. I will forever cherish this opportunity.
What has been your favorite class or experience so far and why?
Working on the design project has undoubtably been my favorite experience so far. My teammates and I have gained extensive “real world” experience working with an external company, applying the Stanford Biodesign process, implementing Scrum methodology, designing testing protocols, and developing an IRB proposal. I believe that the knowledge and skills my teammates and I are gaining from this project will be useful throughout our careers. Additionally, the fact that we are collaborating with an external company illustrates the value of this project. Our work could benefit the lives of patients across the country. I value any opportunity I get to work on a project with such potential.
Any hobbies or interests outside of your scholarship?
Within the academic setting, I enjoy working as a Teaching Assistant. I was a TA in my undergraduate program and have continued working as one for both semesters of the M.Eng. program. Throughout my college career, TAs have been reliable resources, adding exceptional value to my academic experience. Being a TA allows me to pay forward the help they afforded me, and I strive to be as valuable a resource for the students I work with.
Outside of the classroom, I enjoy hiking the gorges in the Ithaca area, especially Buttermilk Falls as I hiked it five times during the fall semester. I have also enjoyed going to Ithaca Beer Co. since it offers a great outdoor space where my classmates and I have been able to meet, share a few laughs, and get to know each other during the pandemic.
What advice might you give other students considering biomedical engineering as a field of study?
When I entered the biomedical engineering discipline, I had this misperception that individuals with BME degrees only pursued medical research or product development positions. Since then, I have learned that biomedical engineers have endless opportunities. With this degree you can work in health management, sales, consulting, regulation, product development, and medical research, among other careers. I believe this is due to the fundamental nature of the field. Biomedical engineers are required to learn, interpret, and critically analyze information from numerous disciplines and use this information to solve complex problems. This forces biomedical engineers to develop advanced problem solving skills that are applicable to all fields and positions. So, if you are considering being a biomedical engineer, I recommend pursuing the degree. No matter what field or position you enter, your biomedical engineering education will act as an amazing framework to build your career upon.
What’s the next step for you after Cornell?
Thankfully my time at Cornell is not over once I finish the M.Eng. program! This summer, I will enter the accelerated MBA program at Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management. I am uncertain what career path I will pursue following the AMBA program, but I am certain that I want to help drive innovation within the medtech industry.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
Elon Musk once said, “No matter how hard you work, someone else is working harder.” Due to my competitive nature, this quote motivates me to push beyond my perceived limits and strive for excellence no matter how difficult the obstacles or challenges before me may seem.