“It can be hard to navigate an engineering degree alone, but professors, staff, and professional clubs have thousands of resources for you to investigate and exploit.”
For Anya Lopez, growing up in Piscataway, New Jersey meant that Rutgers has always been part of her life. Here she shares her experiences as a biomedical engineering major and her hopes for the future.
What drew you to engineering?
In middle school, I participated in the summer TARGET program at Rutgers, for kids – usually girls – interested in STEM. I learned all kinds of stuff about engineering in general.
I’ve gone to events and things open to the public at Rutgers pretty much my entire life. I knew I wanted to study engineering and Rutgers has a good engineering school. It’s also nice to be in-state and pay in-state tuition.
We’re a Rutgers family. My brothers – a senior and a freshman – are both BME majors.
Why did you decide to major in biomedical engineering?
I didn’t know it existed until my brother started majoring in it. Once I looked into it, I found a combination of things I’m really interested in. It’s more than discovering things for the sake of discovery – it’s about seeing what discoveries can actually do.
My choice is personal as well. I have a rare neurological disability and always knew I wanted to work in some form of rehabilitative engineering.
My physiatrist combines medicine and physical therapy with technology and general engineering. This approach really interests me as a BME major.
Do you have a favorite course?
Biomaterials was a very interesting class that directly applies to research I’m doing now. It was well taught and intriguing and broadened my perspective on what BME encompasses.
What about a favorite professor?
Dr. Kristen Labazzo, my biomaterials professor. I also do research with her.
Have you had any internships?
In high school I worked for PBL Assay Science, a biotechnology company that works with interferon-based assays. Since then, I’ve been doing research at Rutgers.
What kind of research?
I’m currently involved in a heterotopic ossification project. Heterotopic ossification can develop after an amputation, when the bone doesn’t realize it should stop growing causes all sorts of problems by growing into soft tissue. The project idea is to design and construct a scaffolding from polymers that would go on the end of bone and prevent it from growing.
Have you decided on a senior design project?
I have a pretty good idea of what my team project will be. Kristen Labazzo has told me about a school for kids with physical disabilities she’s in contact with. A couple of the kids have disabilities that prevent them from doing things at school. I plan to meet with them and see with what their particular needs are and what they can’t do without assistance, and then design some kind of technology to give them more independence from assistance.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
I’m considering going to medical school to become a physiatrist or going into industry, or academia and focusing on researching rehab technology. If I haven’t fully figured out my plan, I can go into industry for a few years – and later apply to medical school or a Ph.D. program.
Are you involved with any extracurricular organizations?
I’m the president of the Unified Sports Club, which partners Rutgers students with local Special Olympics athletes, who come together to play basketball in winter and soccer in fall. While the club helps both athletes and students improve skills, the overriding goal is one of inclusion.
I enjoyed the experience of allocating money to different engineering organizations and seeing what they were doing with the funds when I was on the finance committee of the Engineering Governing Council.
I’m also on the committee that runs the Rutgers recreation department’s Special Friends Day every March. As many as 400 volunteers buddy up with about 100 local special needs participants aged 12-22 for a day of fun.
Do you have any advice for new students?
Get industry experience, if you’re interested in going into industry. Start looking at what you can get involved in freshman year – the more experience you have, the more opportunities you’ll have in the future.
Reach out to staff – they have connections and can give great advice. It can be hard to navigate an engineering degree alone, but professors, staff, and professional clubs have thousands of resources for you to investigate and exploit.
Have you thought about giving back to future SoE students?
I hope that the legacy of a lot of programs and events I’ve started and contributed to would continue to positively affect the university. I intend to stay involved.