by Demetrius Harris
During the summer before junior year of high school, I attended a four-week engineering program at Cornell University. I had the luxury of experimenting with many hands-on activities and projects in a few of the several engineering fields. One of these was biomedical engineering. I did not know what to expect (being that no other field had caught my attention so far).
I was given a leaf with no rips or tears, fluorescent liquid that glows when a very specific wavelength shines on it, and a scalpel. We were asked to observe the leaf and its veins. This request was followed by a barrage of questions, such as “How does water travel through a leaf?” and “Would ripping a leaf affect it receiving water?” We were then asked to cut the primary veins of the leaf and place the stem into the special liquid. After a few minutes of soaking, we were told to shine the light on the leaf.
Surprisingly enough, the liquid made its way to the other side of the leaf despite the discontinuities in the veins. This was possible through the help of capillaries. The simulation gives bioengineers a replication of how blood flows through the brain. When one vein is stopped for one reason or another, is there another way the blood will flow to the other side of the brain to prevent a stroke? The professor leading the experiment then explained how mice are used for similar research on thwarting strokes. We were then introduced to more techniques and advancements in the field. One example is tissue engineering and the research associated with growing a completely new body part, such as cartilage.
This entire experiment and presentation caused me to fall in love with biomedical engineering; it lit a flame of passion; this passion is one that, from that day, I’ve been harnessing. It gave me something to be passionate about, and gave me the indulgence of knowing exactly what I want to do as a career by my junior year of high school.
Now, as a first-generation college student in my 7th semester of the biomedical engineering curriculum, I have overcome many obstacles and challenges. Starting at the Behrend campus, I was able to harness some of the key tools needed to succeed in the College of Engineering; ones that I needed to pick up on fast in order to meet the 3.3 GPA entrance to major requirement.
Structure and discipline were two key tools that I was able to perfect with the mellow community and limited number of activities in comparison to University Park. Along with this, small classes eased the process of creating personal relationships with professors.
When making my transition to University Park, these very tools that I was able to build upon made life just… easier. One of the largest challenges I had to overcome at University Park was the pace. Figuring out the pace, and how to keep up with it, in my first semester was a unique experience. One thing that really helped in the process was mentors that I had prior to the transition and some that I met in my first semester here. Having that group of people supporting, pushing, and challenging you can make the difference between good and great.
The largest challenge I have as a first-generation student is finding my own way. What I mean by that is: I have family there for me with great advice on life’s challenges, but when it comes to the specific challenges that I may be going through, academically, I can’t really find that kind of advice from those family members closest to me. This barrier has forced me to learn from my own experience, make my own mistakes, and push forward in my journey. With this, I am still finding my way, I have come a long way as a person, and as a Penn State student.
Demetrius Harris is a native of the Bronx, New York. He will graduate in May, 2016 with a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in computer science. Demetrius plans to spend time doing research, possibly infusing prosthetic limbs with a more life-like feel of actual engineered tissue, thus further advancing the prosthetic and tissue engineering fields. He is an active member of the National Society of Black Engineers. In his spare time, he exercises to relieve stress, relax, and reflect on life.Read More