Mariela Rivera-De Jesús, Ph.D. Student
Hometown: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
BME Degree Program: PhD
Lab affiliation/Adviser: David Putnam
Awards/honors: Graduate School Dean’s Scholar: Cornell IMSD Program; NIH Institutional Training Grant: “Immuno-Engineering: Integrated Engineering and Immunology Training"
Why did you choose Cornell?
I participated in the Keeping the Ezra Promise (KEP) Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in the summer of 2017 at Dr. Matthew DeLisa’s lab. Over the summer, not only did I learn new techniques that I still apply in lab, but I learned all about Cornell and fell in love with the place. The biomedical engineering program seemed like the perfect program to hone and develop my skills.
Why did you choose biomedical engineering?
I’d always been interested in medicine, but I did not feel passionate about being a medical doctor or any other kind of medical practitioner. As I studied my undergraduate degree in industrial biotechnology, I learned more about developing therapies and how these could be used to treat and prevent diseases. With that, I found my own way to help patients.
What is your area of focus and why is it important?
I’m developing vaccines that better mimic pathogens and can activate the memory of the immune system as if it was the real thing, derived from harmless bacteria. These types of vaccines are very versatile, safe, and easy to produce. My particular project focuses on combining different immune activators on one molecule to enhance the immune response.
What stands out to you about your Cornell BME experience so far and why?
What stands out the most about my experience here has been the people! Faculty, staff, graduate students, post docs…both inside and outside of the department, the people I’ve met at Cornell are so welcoming and eager to help and open collaborations.
Any interests outside of or in relationship to your scholarship?
As part of the IMSD program, I participate in group discussions where we practice oral presentations, learn about Cornell resources, and provide mutual support. In my spare time, I like knitting and crafting, just making nice little things with my hands.
What advice might you give other students considering Cornell or BME?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I used to hesitate a lot about asking questions in the beginning, so I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t know things, but it’s so important to clarify doubts and be curious about what surrounds you, especially at the beginning of your academic journey.
What’s the next step for you and who or what has led you in this direction?
After Cornell, I want to work in the biopharmaceutical industry, particularly in vaccine development. My undergraduate experience greatly influenced my interest in industry, and I chose to pursue a graduate degree in order to be better suited for the positions I am interested in.
Favorite quote that helps inspire you in your work/life?
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. It inspires me to be bold and excel.