Alex Cruz is a doctoral student in biomedical engineering from New Jersey. He studies tissue engineering approaches to calcific aortic valve disease under the guidance of Jonathan Butcher at Cornell. Read more about Using tissue engineering approaches to better understand cardiovascular disease
Ashley Townsel, M.Eng. Student
Hometown: Miami, FL
BME Degree Program: M.Eng.
Lab affiliation/Adviser: Newton de Faria
What brought you to Cornell?
I wanted to be in a collaborative environment that empowers scholars to challenge the boundaries of their respective fields. As I researched programs at Cornell’s BME, it was apparent that the wealth of opportunities afforded to Ph.D. and M.Eng. students reflected Cornell’s dedication to excellence. I also researched current students and came across Dr. Korie Grayson (Class of 2020) who shared her personal journey as a BME Ph.D. student. Her story affirmed Cornell’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, which heavily influenced my final decision to apply.
What inspired you to pursue a biomedical engineering M.Eng.?
A desire to explore medicine using my curiosity, creativity, and craftiness led me to the field of biomedical engineering. I ultimately want to work in the cancer therapy industry and create solutions that address clinical needs. The “Professional Pathway” of the M.Eng. program at Cornell University seemed like a unique opportunity for me to work with a team and simulate my potential role in the field.
What is your design project focus and why is it important?
The accurate detection of cancer at various stages and the comprehensive removal of cancerous tissue during resection surgeries are pivotal factors for reducing recurrence rates. Current cancer imaging modalities do not support timely image processing, however, and the distinction between normal and cancerous tissue during invasive surgeries are operator-dependent. These factors are what drive my design team and I to model a live-imaging system that uses cancer-targeting nanoparticles and artificial intelligence to improve the visual fidelity of ultrasound technology. Our project ultimately supports the accurate detection of cancerous tissue in real-time for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
What opportunities has your time at Cornell given you so far?
In a course titled “Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers,” I worked with my peers to construct a business plan for a wound healing product. We then presented our company, Fusion X Biomaterials, to a panel of real-world investors for feedback. This experience brought clarity to my desires of one day commercializing cancer therapies that serve diverse communities. I now have a better sense of what developing a start-up company entails.
What has been your favorite class or experience so far and why?
My favorite class has been “Essential Immunology” taught by Dr. Beth Rhoades. The content of this course ignited my passion for immuno-oncology and challenged my science communication skills. Taking the course in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic made me more knowledgeable of concepts, such as viral immune evasion, herd immunity, and vaccine function. This allowed me to provide family and friends with an informed view on how the SARS-CoV-2 virus operates and the importance of vaccination.
Any hobbies or interests outside of your scholarship?
As a native Floridian, my experience with snow has felt surreal. I have, however, developed an affinity for sledding and building snow-families. Outside of Cornell’s campus, I enjoy visiting Downtown Ithaca, relaxing at nearby waterfalls, and strolling through the Ithaca Farmers Market. For a “chill” study space with access to food, I highly suggest The Watershed Lounge. For an interesting trip through the Dinosaur Age, I would also recommend visiting the Paleontological Research Institution.
What advice might you give other students considering biomedical engineering as a field of study?
Trust in the ideas that reflect your unique journey. Biomedical engineering is a field that encourages creativity and innovation, so sift through what has been done and stand firm in your pursuit to do what has yet to be done.
What’s the next step for you after Cornell?
After Cornell, I will pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology and explore the use of genetic engineering in immuno-oncology research. I also plan to develop a non-profit initiative for minority youth in STEM fields.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” --Jeremiah 29:11 NIV