"Following graduation, I will be working as an Associate Specialist in Merck’s IT Emerging Talent Rotational Program, where I will be rotating between projects in Data Science, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Software Engineering." Read more about Kristen Ong, Undergraduate Senior
Stephie Lux, Undergraduate Senior
Hometown: West Bloomfield, MI
BME Degree Program: B.S. in BME, Molecular/Cellular/Systems Engineering (MCSE)
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Claudia Fischbach
Awards/honors: BME Honors Thesis, Dean’s List, Tau Beta Pi Scholarship, Best Applied Research Presentation at CURB Spring Symposium 2021
My dad is a Cornell alumnus who studied mechanical engineering, and all of his great stories about his time at Cornell first got me interested in the school. I visited Cornell shortly afterwards and fell in love with the campus (even though it was a frigid -10℉ that day!) and felt like all of the students I met were the type of people I wanted surrounding me in college. At home, I spent time looking through all of the incredible biomedical research at Cornell, and I knew Cornell was the place for me.
I was initially interested in BME because my favorite high school subjects were physics and biology, and I was keen on using my scientific knowledge to solve problems as opposed to just taking a theoretical approach. Furthermore, throughout my entire life I had been a ballerina, and towards the end of high school I learned about prosthetics that could be used for amputee dancers that would allow them to continue dancing. I thought this was absolutely incredible, and it confirmed for me that applying science to directly improve patient outcomes was something I wanted to do.
How did you decide on your BME concentration, Molecular/Cellular/Systems Engineering (MCSE)?
BME at Cornell does a great job letting you try courses in all of the different concentrations. I knew from these courses that instrumentation wasn’t my favorite, but the other three were still on the table. I came to Cornell thinking I would do Biomechanics and Mechanobiology (BMMB) since it was most closely related to prosthetics, my first interest, but as I joined the Fischbach Lab and became much more interested in cancer, I narrowed it down to Biomaterials & Drug Delivery (BMDD) or Molecular/Cellular/Systems Engineering (MCSE). I ultimately chose MCSE because I thought the courses seemed more interesting and directly related to my research here, but I do think I would have been happy doing BMDD since I love biomaterials. My two biomaterials courses have been some of my favorite courses!
What do you think are some of the most important skills you’ve learned while pursuing this major?
I have first and foremost gained a lot of hands-on research skills, ranging from cell culture to polymer fabrication to microscopy and image analysis. I have also learned new tracks of thinking about how to take highly variable biological systems and attempt to introduce controls and traditional engineering thinking to solve biological problems. Finally, I think I have gained a lot of project management skills; I have learned how to start a project and see it through to the end, as well as how when to pivot projects to narrow the scope and have a more successful outcome.
What was it like to pursue and finish your degree during the pandemic?
Finishing my degree in the pandemic has largely been very challenging, since I have definitely lost out on valuable lab time and a lot of the fun social components of senior year. That said, Cornell has done a wonderful job keeping us safe and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to go to lab, attend several in person classes, volunteer at the hospital, and get to see my friends at least sometimes. I feel like Cornell has made the best of the pandemic, and because of that, I have been free to do so as well!
What advice might you give other students considering BME?
I would tell students not to be afraid to explore! BME is a very diverse and broad field which can be taken in any number of directions. Cornell BME enables you to explore any and all of these directions, so take advantage! Once you do find your niche, try to specialize there as much as possible so you can gain the most relevant experience to what you want to do after graduation.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
One of my favorite extracurriculars has been dancing on Rise Dance Group, a primarily contemporary dance group where we all have ballet training. This has been a great outlet for me during college and I have loved continuing to dance! I am also the President of the project team Engineers for a Sustainable World, which has gotten me to think a lot more about incorporating sustainability into my daily life and engineering practice. I have previously had summer research internships at Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, which showed me new avenues of research beyond what I have seen at Cornell. Within Cornell, I have also been involved in teaching other students as a TA and ELI tutor, promoting the school as an Engineering Ambassador, serving on the TBP board, and volunteering at Cayuga Medical as social support in the rehabilitation ward. I also love baking and cooking and spending time with my friends!
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
My general experience in the Fischbach Lab has been extremely important to me during my time in Cornell BME. The Fischbach Lab studies breast cancer, and I first wanted to join the lab since I grew up watching several family members have cancer. Beyond the personal connection, I quickly learned that my academic interests primarily lie in cancer, and my time in the Fischbach Lab has been a huge inspiration in my desire to pursue an MD/PhD (which will most likely be centered around oncology). The Fischbach Lab has also been a key source of support and mentorship for me during my time here; Dr. Fischbach and all of the graduate students have always made me feel very welcome and helped me extensively, both within the lab and beyond!
What’s the next step for you?
After Cornell, I will be heading to the National Institutes of Health, where I received a Cancer Research Training Award to fund a post-baccalaureate research position with the Hernandez group. Dr. Hernandez is a surgical oncologist, and his lab utilizes surgically excised tumors for further study. These tumors are kept alive in a novel engineered system, where they undergo drug testing. If/when effective drugs are successfully found, they are given to the patient. This lab has incredible bench-to-bedside translational research, which I am thrilled to be a part of since I plan to apply to MD/PhD programs for matriculation in the fall of 2023.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“Everything seems impossible until it’s done”