February 2020 - BME Blaze: Sona Shah

Feb 05 2020


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

We were excited to connect with Columbia BME alumna, Sona Shah (M.S. '16), to discuss her experience in the M.S. Program, her current role at Neopenda, the successful company that she and her partner, Teresa Cauvel (M.S. '16), started while in the BME program, and her advice to future BME students. 


Where are you from?

I’m originally from North Carolina (born in Raleigh), and went to undergrad at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

What drew you to the field of Biomedical Engineering?

Right after undergrad (I majored in Chemical Engineering), I took a few months off and spent some time as a teacher in a rural community in western Kenya. During my time there, I was immersed in a beautiful culture and community drastically different from the one I grew up in. I was also exposed to a number of inequities, including in the healthcare sector, which certainly shaped my career path. After I came back to the US, I worked in Bioprocess Research and Development at a large pharmaceutical company. I loved the engineering and healthcare aspect of my work, but was drawn to finding a way to provide more equitable access to healthcare around the world. I chose to pursue a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia to specifically find a way to merge healthcare, engineering, and international development.


What is your current role?

I am CEO of a startup, Neopenda, which innovates medical technologies for emerging markets. We’re proud to have started the company at Columbia in a biodesign course taught by Dr. Katie Reuther.


What are your thoughts on the strength of Columbia BME's alumni network and how has that influenced your career path?

We are honored to be part of Columbia BME’s network. We continue to work with Columbia in a variety of ways: keeping engaged in biodesign courses, having Columbia lecturers on our advisory board (big shout-out to Dr. Reuther and Dr. Aaron Kyle for their contributions to our efforts), and reaching out to the BME department whenever we need help.


Why did you choose Columbia BME?

Originally, I chose Columbia BME for several reasons: (1) the prestige that Columbia—and more specifically Columbia BME—embodies; (2) Dr. Sam Sia’s lab, which, at the time, was creating a point-of-care HIV and Syphilis diagnostic; and (3) access to a variety of global health organizations in New York, including the TB Alliance where I was an intern for several months.


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

Some of my favorite memories are the countless hours we spent starting Neopenda in the biodesign course we took in our second semester. The excitement and support we had throughout the class and afterwards certainly shaped my career. During the course, we applied to pitch at the Columbia Venture Competition, and the funding we received from that was instrumental in enabling us to create Neopenda and bring it to where we are today. I cherish the lasting relationships I developed throughout the program, and I am grateful to the program leaders for their endless support.


Any words of wisdom or tips for prospective BME students?

Be open-minded and follow your passions. I’m a firm believer in “where there is a will, there is a way,” and Columbia BME will help support you in those endeavors. 


Columbia BME M.S. Program

The Master of Science degree program in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Columbia University offers world-class biomedical engineering education and opportunities for cutting edge research and innovation. 
Priority deadline for applications is February 15th.

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