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.”