December 2020 - BME Blaze: Chelsey Campillo Rodriguez

Dec 01 2020

In this monthly spotlight, get to know the alumni and students of Columbia's Department of Biomedical Engineering. Read what our BME folks are up to, from our labs' latest research, to our students' plans for the future, to our teams' innovations, start-ups and other career successes.

We were excited to catch up with Columbia BME student, Chelsey Campillo Rodriguez (M.S. '21), as she told us about her experience as a Columbia BME graduate student, her transition from Molecular Biology, and her advice to future BME students.

Read below to get to know Chelsey!

 

Chelsey Campillo Rodriguez

M.S. '21, Biomedical Engineering

 

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Chicago, but I also grew up right outside of Boston, MA and Rockville, MD.

 

What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

I always knew that I wanted to work in a health-related field, which I have to attribute to my mom who works in global health. During my undergrad, I chose to major in Molecular and Cell Biology since it seemed like a perfect fit at the time. But it wasn’t until my senior year when I took my first Bioengineering course that I found a creative way to merge my background in biology with my growing interest in technology. During that course we learned about medical devices and had two group projects where we built a 3D-printed prosthetic hand, as well as a prototype of an exoskeleton for a client. It was the first time that I worked in a team in order to build something tangible that had the potential to help improve a patient’s life, and that led to an immeasurable feeling of joy! During my last semester at Berkeley, I continued to take courses at the design institute/engineering school, and from then on, I knew I wanted to make a transition to BME.

 

Why did you choose Columbia BME?

I chose Columbia, firstly, because of the people. While working at UCSF for the past two years, I continuously heard about research being done at Columbia. As well, one of the most impactful professors I had at Berkeley did her post-doc here in the BME department, so I knew that great people were at Columbia and that I had to apply.

One thing I really appreciate about Columbia’s BME program is its inclusion of students from different academic backgrounds. Because I am transitioning from Molecular Biology to BME, during my search for master’s programs I prioritized schools with a flexible curriculum so that I could develop a foundation in engineering. Also, Columbia’s effort to marry academia and industry is something that piqued my interest and has made me realize that one is not exclusive of the other.

 

Who has/have been your strongest influence(s) in life?

As I was thinking about my response to this, I realized just how lucky I am to have met so many people that made a significant impact on my life, and I’ll try my best to not make this sound like an Oscar speech. Firstly, there is no doubt my mom is the strongest influence in my life. Despite having me during college, she persevered and continued on to graduate school. The same goes for my stepdad, who I witnessed go through the ups and downs of getting a PhD, but still prevailing. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for all of their love and support. I was also lucky enough to have two great mentors in high school, Drs. Stopfer and Griffith at the NIH, who introduced me to the world of research. While at Berkeley, Professors O’Connell and Liu helped me immensely in realizing my interest in engineering. Most recently, Dr. Ganguly at UCSF has also been a great influence in my career by providing me with the opportunity to simultaneously work with patients and grow my programming and prototyping skills. Finally, I am extremely grateful for the friends I made in college and beyond (Annie, Jaryeong, Gaby, Tyne, Juan, Ilina, and Pranay). Not only do they make my life better, but they’re also working to make this world better.

 

What were some of your favorite projects/memories from the program?

I’m currently taking Dr. Reuther’s course Biomedical Innovation, where we get to work with a team and spend two semesters coming up with a solution for an unmet clinical need. Given the current need for rapid COVID-19 testing, our group has decided to tackle this problem and develop a way to make testing more accessible. By speaking with people who are also working on this problem, such as those at the medical center (CUIMC) and in Dr. Sam Sia’s lab, I realized that our team is really lucky to be at a place such as Columbia, where we are able to learn firsthand from experts in this field.  

 

Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Do not be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone, because you never know if you’ll find a new passion and where that will lead you. For me, I took an engineering course without having the background, and that eventually led me to meet some of the most inspirational people I have ever met, as well as to places like Hong Kong and now here! Also, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have been taught the importance of networking and cold emailing or LinkedIn messaging people who are working in what you’re interested in. It may feel a little awkward at first, and you probably have that message saved in your drafts section, but just remember that you have nothing to lose, and all to gain. So, just send it. Right now!

 

What are you excited about?

There is a lot to be excited for, but a COVID-19 vaccine is probably at the top of my list. 

  

One thing I really appreciate about Columbia’s BME program is its inclusion of students from different academic backgrounds. Because I am transitioning from Molecular Biology to BME, during my search for master’s programs I prioritized schools with a flexible curriculum so that I could develop a foundation in engineering. Also, Columbia’s effort to marry academia and industry is something that piqued my interest and has made me realize that one is not exclusive of the other.

Chelsey Campillo Rodriguez
M.S. '21, Biomedical Engineering

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