Immersed in Industry: Maritza Fuerte Dives into Medical Device Engineering in Silicon Valley Classroom

For alumna Maritza Fuerte, the opportunity to work hands-on in the biomedical engineering industry has defined her SJSU experience. Having earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SJSU, Fuerte realized early on that her studies were closely aligned with what employers are looking for in Silicon Valley.

Maritza Fuerte Headshot

Maritza Fuerte, ‘2020 MS biomedical engineering

“[The MS BME program] is different from other programs in that classes are created to match a skill set need that is consistent with industry,” says Fuerte. “Coming out of the BME undergrad program at SJSU, I was able to find a job at a startup within four months because I graduated with a skill set that was directly applicable to all research and development positions in the medical device industry. After a year of employment, I asked my VP why he chose to hire me and his answer was, ‘you were the only applicant that knew SolidWorks. I got applications from other prestigious Bay Area universities and none of those applicants knew how to use it.’” 

During her three years as a graduate student, Fuerte worked full-time as a research and development engineer at BioVentrix, a startup responsible for creating a device to reshape the heart for patients with ischemic cardiomyopathy.

“Being part of the industry and a student, I was able to directly apply what I was learning to my job,” Fuerte says. “I [took] advantage of events such as the medical device conference that takes place down the street from [SJSU] to both find suppliers I needed for my job and graduate project.” 

Fuerte especially appreciated that her graduate classes were held in the evenings, which allowed her access to any class she wanted despite her workload outside of SJSU. “There were times where I had to travel out of the country to perform studies for my work and my professors were very understanding. There was a lot of flexibility since my job was directly related to my classes,” she says. 

Fuerte was able to bring on two undergraduate students as interns at BioVentrix to work with her on her graduate project. She is most proud of being able to mentor and guide them through the processes of engineering design. 

“I loved [that I] was able to come up with a project that benefited the company and fulfilled my graduation requirement,” Fuerte says. “It also presented me with the experience of leading my own project at the company. Having to present my project idea and discuss it with my classmates, work colleagues, project partners and advisor really helped shape the direction of the project.”

Although Fuerte and her team were unable to complete the project due to the pandemic, they laid the groundwork for the company to resume it when possible. “We were able to run simulations and provide data to back up the designs proposed in our project report,” Fuerte says. 

Although Fuerte’s employment with the company ended with the pandemic, the connections she had formed with individuals from BioVentrix and SJSU helped her to find a new opportunity. 

“I was fortunate to be able to work with an industry professional [who] had been a guest speaker at SJSU, Ajit Nair, [and he] recommended me for a position at another start up,” Fuerte says. Among the highlights of her time at SJSU were campus visits from industry professionals as well as opportunities to visit industry sites in different realms of biomedical engineering.

Maritza Fuerte in hospital gown at hospital

Fuerte at a research hospital in Keil, Germany after a clinical trial in 2019

“BME is such a broad field, [involving] different technologies [and] services necessary to bring a device to market. For example, one week we would be visiting an injection molding house [and] talking about the different design restrictions and tips for design [and manufacturing]. The next [week], we would be in an animal lab, learning about all the regulations behind conducting a study and how to design a test plan for different types of devices. 

“There was a moment when I realized I was learning from my peers and I just felt so proud to be able to call my professors my peers. I also felt an incredible amount of respect for the CEOs and engineers [who] take it upon themselves to teach engineers, the students that they are employing, and sometimes students that they are working with. I felt good about sacrificing my evenings after a full day of work to learn because I knew some of my professors are so passionate about the work they do that they were working a full day and sacrificing their evening to teach me.” 

Now that almost a year has elapsed since Fuerte’s Spring 2020 graduation from SJSU, she hopes to sustain her work in research. 

“I want to continue to make people’s lives better one medical device at a time…I hope to start a Ph.D program in the future. If it wasn’t for the professors that I had at SJSU that continue to inspire me, I think I wouldn’t want to continue my education. I feel lucky to have found role models, in particular Dr. Ergobogbo. If you don’t feel in awe of the work he does at the university, you will find [something] in his industry professional lectures to admire.”

Three iSchool Alumni Recognized for Outstanding Public Service with I Love My Librarian Award

Earlier this year, the American Library Association honored the 2021 winners of its prestigious I Love My Librarian award in a virtual ceremony. Three of the 10 winners are alumni of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the San José State University School of Information.

Check out the article here by the SJSU iSchool to read more!


Samuel Semahegn Uses Graduate Degree, Industry Experience to Engineer a Better Life

Samuel Semahegn headshot

Samuel Semahegn, graduate student, MS mechanical engineering

Graduate student Samuel Semahegn has leveraged the power of Silicon Valley and student research opportunities at SJSU to build a meaningful career in the mechanical engineering industry. In recent months, he has been active in packaging and design for NVIDIA: a prominent company that reinvents computer graphics.

The NVIDIA Scholars program, established by biomedical engineering professor Folarin Erogbogbo, enables students to work with industry professionals while completing their master’s projects, and Semahegn has integrated industry experience into his studies quite successfully. Prior to NVIDIA, Semahegn worked for a Pennsylvania-based company, where he assisted in mechanical design, publication, production and coding. 

“Before I went to Philadelphia, I worked in Oakland full-time at a 3D bioprinter corporation. That was my first internship. From July to September 2019, I was assisting with mechanical design for 2D and 3D parts, physical assembly of the bioprinters, electrical assembly, laser cutting, miscellaneous activities,” says Semahegn. 

Semahegn spent most of his time in academics and research before entering the industry. Notably, he spent the Spring 2019 semester working with mechanical engineering faculty under an appointment through the Tower Foundation at SJSU. 

“I was researching and manufacturing PDMS and other experimental chips that helped me do my project in the labs. I developed a microfluidic system for sensitivity and continuous bacteria detection from aqueous solutions,” Semahegn says. “In some parts of the world, they don’t have clean water, so we are doing research on how we [can] filter contaminated water by using this system. I’m from Ethiopia—that motivates me to do this research.

Not long ago, in 2018, Semahegn was finishing up his undergraduate career in mechanical engineering at UCLA. There, he co-founded an Eritrean and Ethiopian Student Association (EESA) with the goal of connecting UCLA students to the community while celebrating Eritrean and Ethiopian culture. Semahegn’s history of student support can be traced back to the four years he spent as a certified tutor for physics and upper-level applied mathematics at Fresno City College. 

“I love teaching because it provides me with an opportunity to develop communication abilities [to solve] complex physics and math problems,” Semahegn says, adding that tutoring has helped him cultivate greater patience with students. “Now, when I work as a researcher, I can explain why we are doing practical activities in the labs.” 

Samuel Semahegn and his research team hold a robot

Semahegn (second from the left) and his UCLA team hold a prototype of their robot

Practicality is a common thread running throughout Semahegn’s research, including the undergraduate senior project he completed at UCLA.

We designed and manufactured a robot that could navigate around obstacles and arrive at a specific location,” Semahegn says. Using a sensor, the robot could detect and collect household items—such as shoes or children’s toys scattered across a room—then organize and transport them to their proper locations. It could even retrieve clean dishes from a dishwasher and put them away. “If the robot sensed any object [in its way], it would stop,” says Semahegn.

Upon graduating from UCLA, Semahegn entered the mechanical engineering graduate program at SJSU. He describes his favorite course, ME 230 – Advanced Mechanical Engineering Analysis with Professor Younes Shabany, as “the hardest class at SJSU.” Yet, he thrived, receiving an A+ grade: a testament to Semahegn’s drive and Professor Shabany’s teaching skill. “I was comfortable with him,” Semahegn says. “The way he teaches, I love it.”

Semahegn is projected to graduate from SJSU in May 2021 with a 3.9 GPA. In March, he’ll begin a new full-time role as an associate test engineer with KLA Corporation until this fall, when he will embark on a new journey as a mechanical engineering PhD student at the University of Arizona at Phoenix. In the meantime, Semahegn plans to enjoy the remainder of his time in California. Here, [in Silicon Valley], you can see people from different cultures. It’s diversified. That’s why I like it,” Semahegn says.

“I think San José State is the key for anyone who wants to work in industry. Right after my first semester [at SJSU], I got my very first internship in Oakland.” Semahegn urges other students to take advantage of the Career Center, whose resources helped him to land valuable opportunities. 

“Handshake is the best resource to get a job. It’s even better than LinkedIn or Indeed because according to my experience, most companies trust you when you apply from the school’s website. SJSU is famous and [companies] like to take San José State students,” says Semahegn, noting that Silicon Valley opportunities are plentiful not just in engineering, but in other realms such as human resources or psychology. 

“If anyone wants to work in the industry, San José State is the right place [to be].” 

Samuel Semahegn was nominated for a Student Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.

“Learning Together: Online Learning and Beyond”

Lurie College of Education graduate student Janeth Canseco, ’19 Psychology, has been determined not to let COVID-19 slow her learning. Check out this great new post by SJSU’s Washington Square! Canseco is a fantastic example of perseverance as a graduate student making progress towards her goals during the pandemic.