Pictured above: UAF engineering staff at Women in the Workforce Annual Conference on March 6, 2019 in Bentonville, AR
As part of Women’s History Month, Tori Marie Stover—Fiscal Support Analyst for the Biomedical Engineering Department—offers a summary of the Women in the Workforce Annual Conference held on March 6, 2019 and the various sessions that were presented.
The theme of this conference was Purpose, Performance, and Persuasion. Their description: “This one-day, interactive conference provides female professionals with an opportunity to enhance relevant workplace skills. Hear from industry veterans on topics that align with this year’s theme.”
“This thought-provoking session on leadership style specifically is geared towards women, focused on 6 Key P’s: Performance, Persuasion, Purpose, Passion, Presence, and Perception.”
- The first session was with Keynote Speaker Merrissa Pires, VP of Human Resources at Rickett Benckiser. We were asked to speak with another attendee about who we are at our best and worst, and how we remain our best during our worst times. This allowed us to reflect on who we really are, and made us think about our passions, and what makes us feel powerful. She asked us to think about how a child would perceive us; children tend to see greatness in everything, which was very thought provoking. Then she provided us with a quote, “Gallup analysis reveals that people who use their strengths (passions) every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.” This engrains that how we perceive ourselves, and the things we are passionate about, have a huge impact on us. With that said, she pointed out that women often tear themselves down, when they should be lifting themselves up. This is a great reminder for anyone; your quality of life matters, and you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.
- We chose between two workshops: Discover Your Purpose: Emi Cardarelli, Director Club Sales and Sustainability at Unilever and Discover and the Impact of Storytelling in the Workplace: Shannon Petersen, Director of Human Resources at Hilti. I chose to attend the latter, since the former sounded similar to the keynote speaker, and I wanted to learn something different. This presentation’s purpose was to give us a deeper understanding of the power of storytelling and how to use it to connect with co-workers, customers, and supervisors. Shannon shared her story of a medical scare that forced her to spontaneously go on short-term disability leave, and how her supervisor was supportive and encouraged her to come back to work afterwards. By the end of the story, the whole audience felt a connection to Shannon and her experience. As an exercise, she had one half of the room ask each other a set of questions, then the other half answer a different set. The first half were simple questions about favorite actors, and pets, while the second half was about our goals and other personal questions. Her point was that the more complex and personal a question or story is, the more in-depth the answer or reaction will be. As a result, you will feel more connected to the other person. She uses this method to hire employees, or sell a product, but it can be used in any situation where you are interacting with another individual.
- Silvia Siqueria, Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Hilti, brought a panel of presenters to discuss the importance of workplace diversity. At first, they began with gender diversity, but it quickly began to include age and race as well. They answered several questions from the audience about how to handle situations, ranging from what to do when someone is clearly excluding you for being different than them, to when someone is trying to make you comfortable, but ends up making you more uncomfortable. The example given for the latter was, an African American woman had started a position and had items removed from her list of duties, because her supervisor didn’t think she would be comfortable handing it. All of the responses were thoughtful, but the most helpful piece of advice, was to write it down and have a conversation about it later. Tell them how it made you feel and ask if this was their intention. Silvia said from her experience doing this, she usually gets the response, “Of course not, I didn’t even think about it that way”. This opens a dialogue about the issue, and allows the other person to understand how their words or actions can be misconstrued, so they can be more thoughtful about the way they behave in the future. I think this piece of advice can be helpful to anyone who is having a conflict with a co-worker or supervisor.
The day ended with a drawing for some goodies, and closing words by the MC, Kristy Meinzer, Senior Manager of Performance Content, and VMLY&R.
Ishita Tandon is biomedical engineering doctoral student at the University of Arkansas and a recent recipient of the American Heart Association fellowship. In the Q&A below, she discusses her history with biomedical engineering, work-life balance, mentorship under Dr. Balachandran and collaborative research with Dr. Kyle Quinn and his lab, among other things.
UArk BME: Did you always know you wanted to study biomedical engineering?
Tandon: Yes, I did! My parents are both doctors. My dad is a plastic and cosmetic surgeon and a burn specialist. I grew up with the idea that there is a dearth of affordable and sustainable skin scaffolds for burn patients and I wanted to do stem cell research and come up with a solution. Therefore, I took up biotechnology as the optional subject during my high school and did my undergraduate in biotechnology as well. After that, I came up here and have been enjoying my research as a PhD scholar.
UArk BME: You were recently awarded the American Heart Association Fellowship for your research into calcific aortic valve disease. Congratulations! What drove you towards this research?
Tandon: The research proposal we submitted for the American Heart Association Fellowship deals with using multiphoton imaging as a tool for early detection of aortic heart valve calcification. Our lab researches the early mechanisms involved in the aortic valve calcification. This research is important as the diagnostic technologies used in the clinic like ultrasounds, diagnose the disease at a later stage when irreversible damage has taken place. So, we wanted to come up with detection tools that applied to the early stages of the disease so that the intervention could be made before irreversible damage of the tissue occurs. In addition, Dr. Quinn had the technology of multiphoton imaging, which had applications in cancer and stem cell research. Therefore, we collaborated to see if the technology could be used as an early detection tool and be applied in the heart valve disease field as well.
UArk BME: What’s a typical day like for you as a PhD student? How do you balance the demands of your research with other responsibilities?
Tandon: Usually, my day revolves around the research. I try to be home by evenings and not spend odd hours in the lab, to maintain some work – life balance. The way we set expectations in our lab is by setting deadlines to get the research goals completed, irrespective of how and when we get it done. This setup gives us the flexibility of working at our own pace and time and enhances our productivity and work quality. It also helps us maintain the balance and get some personal time.
UArk BME: What made you choose the University of Arkansas for graduate school?
Tandon: I loved the fact that it was a new and growing department and the research projects going on were exciting. I had initially applied for a master’s degree. Dr. Kartik offered me a PhD position and I was intrigued when we discussed about the research opportunities. I was also drawn to the peaceful and serene vibe of the town with a nice climate.
UArk BME: Your research specifically focuses on early detection methods. Could you elaborate on what this research entails, and how it will help those diagnosed with the disease?
Tandon: Our lab focuses on creating multiscale platforms like 2-Dimensional or 3-Dimensional organ-on-chip models, animal models and biomaterials for tissue engineering applications. For my research, the organ-on-chip device and the animal model is used to simulate the healthy versus the diseased condition of the valve. The cells and tissues are then imaged using the multiphoton microscope and metabolic readouts are obtained. The goal is to correlate those readouts with the metrics, which are established in the literature in order to test the hypothesis that the multiphoton metrics could be used for early detection of the aortic valve calcification. My study serves as a proof-of-concept and would need rigorous validations before it can start benefiting patients directly. I believe, in short term the metric would be more useful in research to enable a longitudinal study in-vitrowith repeated measures given the fact that the imaging technique is non-destructive, label-free and provides quantitative data. Eventually, with the minimization of the imaging setup and further validation of the metrics, this detection strategy, may have a shot in clinics.
UArk BME: Which faculty members have you worked most closely with in your research here? What has it been like working with them?
Tandon: I work in the mechanobiology and soft materials lab with Dr. Kartik Balachandran. I feel blessed to be under his guidance. I hope to pursue a career in academia and Dr. Kartik is the ideal mentor and professor. He serves as a role model in terms of a lab PI, a professor, an administrator and a mentor. Having that mutual respect and understanding is pivotal when it comes to such demanding undertakings as a PhD.
For my current project, I have closely worked with Dr. Kyle Quinn and his lab. I enjoy their work ethic and determination. He gives us the extra push that is sometimes needed to speed things up and realize that we are competing in a highly competitive industry. So many times Dr. Muldoon and Dr. Wolchok have helped me and guided me through questions about microscopy or statistics. The professors in this department make it a safe and peaceful environment to be productive, train yourself for the future and not actually feel the pressure of outside world.
All the professors are supportive of each other’s research and the overall development of each student.
UArk BME: What have the greatest challenges been in you research work so far? How have you overcome them?
Tandon: One major challenge I have faced is that I get excited about all the cool research going on that it gets difficult to focus on one project. I want to take them all on. I want to learn all the different concepts and techniques and be a part of as many projects as I could. I tend to take new projects on without really finalizing the previous ones. The way I am trying to manage it, is by realizing the fact that the research associated with your name is the one that is published and materialized. We need to keep in mind that what we are doing as scientists is in long term for the benefit of society and needs to be accessible to them in some published form. I know many students suffer from the same issue on different levels and at some point we have to commit and see a project through, despite all the troubleshooting and technical challenges it entails.
UArk BME: What’s your favorite part of being a PhD student at the University of Arkansas?
Tandon: Umm, everything. I can list a couple of them. UArk offers something for everyone. Whatever our taste be in terms of reading, sports, music, arts, science, there is a place for everything. I have always loved to be a part of the extra-curricular activities and respect the fact that there is so much to do here when I need it. I also appreciative that our BMEG department is a small family unit where we all work and enjoy together. We have had activities like ping-pong tournament and department outings. People get along and strive to succeed all together.
UArk BME: Do you have any advice for undergraduates who might wish to pursue a graduate degree in biomedical engineering?
Tandon: In my experience, two most important things as an undergraduate hoping for graduate school are 1. having a strong understanding of the fundamentals and concepts in the field and 2. getting research experience in a lab. The grades drive the study patterns of most students and they tend to cram up and selectively study to just get the desired grades. I feel the focus should be to understand the concepts and soak in the knowledge. Academics is like a growing tree. If the roots are deep and strong, the tree is going to flourish and fruit well. For someone aspiring to pursue a graduate degree, they should definitely get some lab experience. The earlier during the undergraduate the better are their chances to be a part of the publications, to make them competitive for a graduate position.
Kristianna doing the signature Edwards’ heart hand sign outside on of the testing labs
Kristianna Jones is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. During the summer of 2018, she was a Quality Engineering Intern for Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine, California. Below, she describes what a typical day was like, what surprised and impressed her, and what she took away from the internship:
This past summer I was fortunate enough to work as a Quality Engineering intern on the Pilot Operations team with Edwards Lifesciences! I got this amazing opportunity from attending the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 44th National Convention this past March. My internship lasted for 10 weeks, May 21st through August 3rd, in Irvine, California and every day was like a brand-new adventure. Of course, working for one of the top medical device companies seemed a little nerve-wracking at first, but I was honestly a lot more prepared for industry than I originally thought.
Kristianna Jones outside the Irvine Campus during her first week at her internship
As a quality engineering intern, I got to experience how they ensure the safety of each product before it was sent to the market. I learned how thorough the process is—from checking the quality of the raw goods to the checks built into the manufacturing process to the final inspections and tests conducted after the product is completed, everything is truly done with a “Patients First” mindset.
A typical day for me started at 7:30am with the daily manufacturing meeting. Even though I’m not a morning person at all, I always found these meetings interesting and insightful because I was able to get a quick overview on ALL of the transcatheter heart valve (THV) products, not just the one I was supporting. Besides the morning meeting, two days never really looked the same. One day, I even got to be a surgeon and implant an aortic valve into a pig heart! My manager was mostly hands-off besides our weekly one-on-ones, so I decided what I did on a daily basis and that just depended on what projects I needed to work on that day.
Gabe Moore is a senior studying biomedical engineering, and also a highly successful student athlete. Below, he discusses what drew him to biomedical engineering, how he balances schoolwork and athletics, the ways in which biomedical engineering and track and field complement one another, and more.
UArk BME: Did you always know you wanted to study biomedical engineering?
Moore: I have always loved learning about the human body and solving problems. I didn’t know I wanted to study biomedical engineering in particular, but when I found out it was a relatively new major at the University of Arkansas, I wanted to enroll right away.
UArk BME: What drew you to the University of Arkansas?
Moore: I began talking to the track coaches in high school and visited campus a few times for track meets. I love the location and atmosphere of the University, along with the track team’s great tradition and success. Track was important, but academics were the main focus, so I made sure the University had the major I wanted to study. Luckily they did, so it made attending the University an easy decision!
Tasha Repella snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with a large wrasse fish
Tasha Repella is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. In early 2018, she spent five months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. Below, she reflects on her experiences and discusses what she’s learned:
A year ago, if someone had told me I would be sitting in Sydney, Australia, writing about the last five months I spent in one of the most beautiful countries, I wouldn’t dare believe them. Looking back at this semester, I am so humbled by such an incredible opportunity I was given and the valuable lessons that helped shape me.
Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons there are opposite from the U.S., so their school year doesn’t begin until March, which is late summer for them. So at the end of February, I took a leap of faith, and I boarded a plane headed for Sydney. I was thrilled, but the nerves also stuck with me. While I have grown up with a deep love for travel, I knew that leaving the comfort of my Fayetteville community of three years would be tough, but it was the best thing I have ever done.
We are excited to welcome Dr. Christopher Nelson to the University of Arkansas Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Nelson will join the department as an assistant professor in June 2019.
Dr. Nelson completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Engineering at the University of Arkansas, and his PhD from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Nelson is currently pursuing research at Duke University supported by The Hartwell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and the prestigious NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00).
Dr. Nelson’s primary research interests are in developing new technologies for therapeutic genome engineering. Previously, he has developed biomaterial-based platforms for drug and gene delivery including a nanoparticle for systemic siRNA administration (ACS Nano 2013) and a multifunctional scaffold for local gene silencing for regenerative medicine (Advanced Materials 2014). More recently, he has applied a genome engineering approach to treat the genetic basis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in vivo (Science 2016). Dr. Nelson now plans to apply gene and drug delivery to genome engineering to create precision molecular therapies, study regenerative medicine, and interrogate gene function and regulation.
Welcome, Dr. Nelson!