Senior Reflection: Stephie’s Story

Coming to Cornell four years ago, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was thrilled to be an engineer, excited about all the people I would meet, and looking forward to moving to New York, but beyond that I had no idea what it would be like. I could have never imagined this, finishing off my senior year in the midst of a pandemic with half of my classes on Zoom. I could never have imagined the powerful depth of the friendships I have made at Cornell, which have prevailed no matter the circumstances. And I could have never imagined the current career trajectory on which I have found myself, a trajectory which was completely off the table when I first stepped foot onto North Campus.

Cornell Engineering student StephieBut here I am, with seven semesters of engineering under my belt and more than seven semester’s worth of stories. I have had some of the best moments of my life at Cornell and also some of the worst- any engineer who won’t admit that they’ve broken down in Duffield at 2 am is probably lying. But as difficult as college can be, especially in a rigorous program like Cornell Engineering, all of the obstacles serve to help you find yourself. When I came in as a biomedical engineer, all I knew was that I wanted to work on cancer research and maybe get a PhD. I promptly joined a project team, because someone told me it would help me apply for research positions. I set out on what I thought was a straight shot to my goal. Indeed, I got into an incredible research group studying cancer that I have loved working with for the last three years. But along the way, I realized there can be so much more to what I can do.

Though I originally planned on quitting my project team after getting a research position, I surprisingly became more invested. My project team, Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), helped me see how underrated and yet important sustainability is. I am currently the president for ESW and am so grateful to the organization for the friendships, my more sustainable lifestyle, and for my leadership skills. And as much as I found I loved lab work, I found it didn’t have enough instant gratification for me; I knew I was helping people, but I wasn’t helping them now. I started tutoring with Engineering Learning Initiatives and finally saw how important the human factor was for me. I started volunteering at Cayuga Medical Center to help provide social support to patients, and these experiences, along with my own health history, slowly helped me see that I should pursue an MD. This realization was compounded by my summer internships in biomedical research, and somewhat dramatically by the ongoing and unforgettable health crisis of COVID.

Cornell Engineering student StephieThough I was torn between an MD and a PhD for a while, I eventually learned that there are joint programs. Pursuing an MD/PhD would allow me to continue applying engineering principles to medical problems while also giving me the chance to interact with patients. While it is a unique path, it is the engineer and the doctor rolled into one, able to provide a fresh perspective to both sides. I knew then that this is what I should pursue and haven’t looked back since. Indeed, after graduation I will be working at the National Institutes of Health with a surgical oncologist, helping to engineer a machine that can keep surgically removed tumors alive for drug testing. After a few years there, I will at last apply to MD/PhD programs.

Again, if you had asked me four years ago what Cornell would be like, I couldn’t have told you any of this. But that’s what Cornell is. Cornell is an opportunity to find yourself, both personally and professionally, through the incredible and inspiring program that is Cornell Engineering. If you can think it, you can do it, whether that looks like creating a biomimetic system to study cancer, helping NASA build a satellite, or designing your own hydro turbine. It is all thanks to the incredible people and opportunities that always surround you here. I am so proud and grateful to be a Cornell Engineer, and while I will be devastated to leave my friends and Ithaca behind, I know Cornell has prepared me to excel in my next chapter.

—Stephie, biomedical engineering