What do you do?
I study whether elastic ankle exoskeletons can be used to improve walking for older adults and how the exoskeleton changes what lies beneath the skin, such as muscles and tendons.
Why did you choose this field?
I started out in Biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've always enjoyed helping others so at first I was going to be a doctor. I quickly realized I don't like people in pain so I decided that was not a good option. Next I was going to be a pharmacist but I wanted a more hands on field. As I was progressing through biochem I missed the math so I decided to add biological systems engineering (BSE) with an emphasis in biomedical engineering. In BSE I decided I was going to do tissue engineering and grow organs in a lab. I joined a research lab and for 2 years I experienced the frustrations of tissue engineering. I came to realize that it was too small scale for me and I missed human interaction.
Towards the end of my degree I took a class that focused on the different opportunities a biomedical engineer had. We toured a rehabilitation hospital that also had a research lab. Here is where I fell in love with studying human movement. I volunteered and later worked in the research lab for 2 years. In order to make this my full time job I decided to get my masters at USC in Biokinesiology. I threw my everything into it. I was a part of 2 different labs learning about ballet injuries to stroke rehabilitation.
As much as I loved studying the body, I always had an interest in exoskeletons and prostheses too so I decided to go for a PhD in one of those fields. I am now a bioengineering PhD student at Georgia Tech studying exoskeletons for the elderly and how they effect the body. I haven't always known exactly what I wanted but I am extremely happy with where I have ended up. I strongly recommending following your interests, even if they change.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I had never thought about going to grad school until shortly before I needed to apply. My parents both have associates degrees so university was already a big deal. I never knew anyone with a graduate degree and I really didn't know how to get there. I'm extremely proud of the school I was able to get into and the work I get to do for my doctorate.
Why do you love working in STEM?
STEM for me is so exciting because you're always learning new information. It's not only new to me but it can also be new to the field. Also being in STEM also means you aren't just limited to one field. I use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics every day.
Best advice for next generation?
My advice would be to go out and try new activities and don't be afraid if it doesn't go according to plan. Initially, I was so sure of what I wanted but once I experienced it I realized my passions were elsewhere. I also strongly believe in following what inspires YOU.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." - Bernard Baruch