Paula Fraczek, B.S. '19

Paula Fraczek

Why did you choose Cornell?
I always knew that Cornell has a very strong engineering program. When I heard through the grapevine that a BME major was in the works, I knew Cornell was the choice for me. I actually made the decision to attend Cornell without visiting the campus because I was so confident that I’d be happy here. The beauty of Ithaca and our campus was an added bonus that I found out about when I moved in freshman year!

Why did you choose to major in BME at Cornell?
I was very interested in biology as I was growing up—my fascination probably started when my parents got me a microscope for Christmas one year, along with a cool set of slides for me to observe. I was hooked, but for the longest time I thought that a career in medicine was the only way to pursue this interest. This all changed in high school, when I joined the robotics team and realized that I also loved math, physics, and engineering. I enjoyed coding, tinkering with circuits, and building mechanical systems, and I wanted to be a part of a field that combined engineering and technology with biology and medicine. My robotics coach then referred me to an article about 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering, introducing me to the world of biomedical engineering. It was a perfect match, and from that point on, I knew BME was the major for me.

Brief description of your research topic/ Lab(s)/Adviser(s):
I joined Dr. Ben Cosgrove’s lab at the end of my sophomore year. The Cosgrove Lab utilizes systems bioengineering approaches to study the microenvironmental changes and signaling alterations involved in the decline of muscle stem cell functionality and tissue regeneration. My work in the lab focuses on the role of tetraspanin protein expression as a marker that can be used to delineate muscle stem cell functional heterogeneity (i.e. how well these cell populations undergo self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation to contribute to muscle regeneration following injury). The goal is to identify enhanced sub-populations within muscle stem cells in order to optimize therapies to combat age-related regenerative insufficiencies and muscle loss. Through my research, I was able to learn an abundance of new skills and make connections between my coursework and real-life applications, which made my educational experience even more exciting.

What opportunities has the major given you so far?
Being able to interact closely with world-class faculty—each with their own fascinating backgrounds and research areas—was something I didn’t expect to have at my disposal when I first began my undergraduate career. I learned to appreciate it even more when I learned that students in larger majors didn’t have the same connections with their professors as BME students do. With teachers that are so invested in our success (both in and outside of the classroom), it was easy to learn the skills that we needed to forge connections between biology and engineering.

What was your favorite class or experience at Cornell BME and why?
My favorite class was BME 6210: Engineering Principles of Drug Delivery. Dr. Putnam is an incredibly engaging, energetic, and intelligent lecturer. This class taught me a wealth of information about pharmaceutical development, as well as the chemical and material properties that dictate the success of various drug delivery mechanisms. Our in-class literature discussions connected the course material to exciting new research and helped me learn how to properly scrutinize scientific papers. I highly recommend taking graduate-level courses as an undergraduate because they pose new intellectual challenges and teach more specialized and intriguing content.

What clubs/organizations do you participate in at Cornell?
I was a mentor/tutor through Cornell’s STEP program, in which a group of Cornell Students would drive to nearby middle schools to tutor minority and economically disadvantaged youths after school to increase their preparedness for careers in STEM fields. I additionally take part in my lab’s outreach efforts, like our annual collaboration with 4H. I also enjoyed playing intramural soccer and being a member of BMES.

Do you have any advice for students considering research in Biomedical Engineering?
Email as many professors as you can and don’t give up hope if they don’t all respond immediately. Be persistent! Once you join a lab, I recommend staying in Ithaca for a summer or two to work on research full-time. It’s the best way to focus on learning new laboratory techniques and becoming acquainted with your fellow lab members.

While at Cornell/BME, what did you do for fun?
There’s a surprising amount of cool concerts in upstate New York. My friends and I enjoyed catching shows at the State Theatre and Bailey Hall, or driving to Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo, or even NYC to see our favorite artists perform.

Favorite Cornell/BME memory?
The annual BME holiday party is one of my fondest BME memories. Seeing professors, graduate students, undergrads, and staff enjoying the festivities serves as a great reminder that the BME department is a big, happy family. It’s also fun to see professors and students strike wacky poses for the photo booth to celebrate the end of a semester.

What’s the next step for you?
Starting in the fall, I’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan.

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