At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes; an autoimmune form of diabetes that effects 1.25 million Americans. At the time, I knew nothing about the disease, but the burden it had on my life encouraged me to get involved in research. Currently, I am working towards an Electrical Engineering major and a Bio-Engineering minor at the University of Central Florida. I have had the opportunity to conduct summer research activities at the Mayo Clinic Rochester and held a position at the Advent Health Translational Institute for Diabetes & Metabolism. My research experience is primarily in the tissue engineering of endocrine cells destroyed in diabetes.
By screening small molecules in growth factors, I try to change the identity of differentiating cells to be closer to those found in the body. The hope is that these stem cells derived insulin cells can be transplanted into diabetics to reverse diabetes. In a field predominated by biologists, I originally doubted my qualifications as an engineer to conduct this kind of research. It wasn’t until I gained practical experience that I could validate my concerns and see that the biggest obstacle between me and my passion was myself. I determined that an innovator can’t be determined by their qualifications and the path to innovation is unmarked and ambiguous.
The Astronaut Scholarship to me is a big deal! It not only bolsters my resume and prepares me for applying to grad school, but the monetary compensation for the scholarship enables me to continue research.
Being distinguished as an Astronaut Scholar has really given me the confidence to pursue my research and confirms that I have made a huge step in my professional endeavors. Being a Type 1 Diabetic, I understand the adversities of living with diabetes and I am personally motivated to pursue research in this field for a cure.