Alumna Hawi Gemeda Leverages Program Resources to Advance Career, Research Prospects

Hawi Gemeda headshot

Hawi Gemeda ‘2018 MS Biomedical Engineering

Hawi Gemeda graduated from SJSU’s MS biomedical engineering (BME) program in Fall 2018. During her time as a student, Gemeda became interested in the way that the field integrates engineering and biology. 

My master’s project with Professor Melinda Simon’s Laboratory at SJSU opened a path for my internship, which has allowed me to continue my master’s project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL),” says Gemeda. “The project focused on developing a microfluidic device for DNA extraction of single cancer cells. This experience has allowed me to grow professionally and improve my technical skills.”

Gemeda says the BME program and its professors served as valuable resources during and after her time as a graduate student. She enjoyed working with peers in the BME program and engaging with extracurricular activities that exposed her to the local industry.

I was part of the Silicon Valley Innovation and Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program (SVIES) and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). These opportunities were instrumental to my career development,” says Gemeda.

“The SVIES program has enabled me to attend different entrepreneurship events and visit several innovative biomedical companies in Silicon Valley. It has empowered me to gain valuable exposure to the biomedical engineering field’s numerous opportunities. The BMES program, through its various events and programs, has enhanced my understanding of several research topics in BME.”

Gemeda plans to continue her contributions to the BME field through research and innovation.

Hawi Gemeda was nominated for an Alumni Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.

Alumna Ashley Hall Forges Path into Medicine through Biomedical Engineering

Ashley Hall pours liquid into beaker

Ashley Hall found her way into biomedical engineering after completing her degree in materials science and engineering at the University of California, Merced. Though nervous about starting an M.S. program in a new discipline upon arrival at SJSU, Hall became more enthralled with the multifaceted nature of the field from each course she took. 

Ashley Hall Headshot

Ashley Hall
’18 MS Biomedical Engineering

“Some classes were powerhouse classes for me, such as Prosthetics and Orthotics, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering, Medical Device Regulation, and Medical Imaging. In those courses, I found that I could sit and listen even if I wasn’t being graded. The professors were interested in the topics and the ideas presented were personable to me. From there, I felt inspired and pitched my own project for my thesis work.” That project was titled Conductive Graphene/PLGA Hybrid Composite Created by Environmentally Friendly Ink Formulation for Use in Peripheral Nerve Repair. 

“Having to write a project proposal was a nerve-wracking and rewarding experience,” says Hall. “Having to inch through all the parts that go into putting together a research project has become invaluable. The skillset translates into many different situations outside of research.” 

While working on her M.S. degree, Hall was able to intern at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “[This] allowed me to see how much networking and external help is needed to have a functional project. Initially, I thought once you have an idea, you are good to go. That cannot be farther from the truth. Just as important as your research question, you will have to be able to explain why your project is essential and your results in an understandable way. The easier it is to see why your project is amazing, the easier to get the funding, and the easier to get backing for the things you need. I didn’t realize early on that research projects are a marriage of IQ and EQ skills. Don’t underestimate those soft skills.”

Hall says that the courses she has taken at SJSU only helped her fall more in love with the field of biomedical engineering. 

“I knew I wanted to be in medicine, but I know I didn’t want to be an MD. The variety of topics available quickly helped me find what I was interested in and [what] I am not. I plan to continue pursuing higher degrees. My M.S served as a springboard [for] me to experiment with research in academia and understand the connections between research and commercialization.”

Post-graduation in 2018, Hall was hired at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab under the Materials Division. “At the lab, I can interface with many up-and-coming technologies. While not directly in biotechnology, I have seen many exciting and new ways that biological concepts are being utilized for different applications in seemingly dissimilar fields.”

This research and development experience offered Hall a wider perspective on the different directions she could as a professional in STEM. 

“I didn’t have to be an MD to work in medicine; I could work in regulatory or quality control. I can research industrial scale-up. I can do academic research. The path I take is led by my interest and not caged by the degree that I have.”

Ashley Hall was nominated for an Alumni Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.

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.”