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Erika B., 26 – FUNDED

“I am deeply passionate about the dynamic field of tissue engineering research and development, with a specific focus on revolutionizing the production of tissues and maximizing the associated processes,” says Erika B. This New Face of Tech winner’s enthusiasm is fueled by the desire to address the pressing needs of our growing population without the dependency on donors, all while minimizing challenges such as disease, immune rejection, and more.

She is also driven by the underlying goal of fostering the next generation of engineers. “I am committed to mentorship and active involvement in projects, aiming not only to give back to the academic institutions that have enriched my own education but also to share the wisdom I have gained throughout my journey thus far,” she added.

Ultimately, Erika’s professional aspirations lie at the intersection of groundbreaking tissue engineering and the cultivation of future engineering talent. She would love to hold an administrative position overseeing and sharing research, while staying connected with students.

She is now in her second year of the Biomedical Engineering Ph. D. program at University of Georgia (UGA), working in Dr. Cheryl Gomillion’s Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine lab.

What does being the New Face of Tech mean to you?

Receiving the title of “New Face of Tech” for the second time is an immense privilege, and it reinforces the continued impact and importance of diversity in the technology landscape. This recognition means not only celebrating individual accomplishments but also affirming the ongoing commitment to breaking barriers and fostering inclusivity.

As a first-generation college student and woman in engineering, being the New Face of Tech for a second time allows me to amplify the message that diversity is not just a momentary focus but an enduring force that propels the industry forward, making strides toward a more representative and forward-thinking future.

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

Sponsoring K-12 STEAM activities has the potential to increase girls’ participation in related fields. However, ensuring their continued engagement poses a distinct challenge. Without altering the STEAM environment to be more welcoming to women, it’s unlikely these girls will remain in these fields.

To effect change, it’s crucial to guide girls from high school into colleges that offer robust support systems for women in STEAM. This includes support groups and faculty who actively promote cooperative learning, employ inclusive examples and content, showcase broad applications of concepts (including social sciences, which has shown increased interest among girls), and more.

I’ve contributed to this cause on a smaller scale by actively involving underrepresented students in my projects, providing them with opportunities to learn and grow. Additionally, I’ve been an active mentor in the UGA Mentor Program, offering support to freshmen entering the field of engineering here at UGA. Achieving increased representation of women also involves enhancing faculty training in the classroom and providing increased funding and guidance for academic clubs and organizations that champion women.

Over time, consistent exposure to these progressive ideas and the normalization of women in STEAM can lead to a societal shift, making it more comfortable and secure for women to pursue careers in these fields which is so important if we want to ultimately engineer solutions for everybody.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

Embarking on my journey, I confronted diverse challenges that have significantly shaped my path. One recurring obstacle involved projects losing steam, pushing me to develop resilience and find alternative approaches to bring them to fruition. Overcoming the fear of public speaking marked a significant personal triumph, necessitating stepping out of my comfort zone and honing effective communication skills.

Establishing financial independence as a first-generation student demanded navigating uncharted territory, compelling me to become my own support system and cultivate a strong sense of financial responsibility. Surrounding myself with like-minded individuals while eliminating negative distractions has been pivotal, fostering an environment conducive to personal growth.

Prioritizing volunteer work, finding dedicated time to relax and disconnect from work, and learning to think independently and foster positive thinking have all played vital roles in my journey, contributing to both personal and professional development and reinforcing my commitment to continual growth and self-improvement.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

I maintain a marker board in my office, acting as a visual guide for the weekly tasks that demand my attention. The mere presence of these written tasks propels me to confront them directly, turning the process of removing them from the marker board into a sort of game. This approach not only ensures heightened productivity but also liberates time for additional pursuits such as volunteering, engaging in research, and cherishing quality moments with loved ones.

My motivation receives an extra boost from the responsibility to share my research findings. Regular reporting, including weekly lab meetings and monthly comprehensive reports to the foundation funding my project, serves as a means of accountability. I firmly believe that establishing a similar structure is advantageous for any student, offering a systematic framework for accountability and steady progress toward their goals.

The absence of such a system should prompt students to explore ways to incorporate it into their academic journey.

The novelty and excitement surrounding my work in the field of regenerative medicine serve as additional motivational factors. Beyond delving into unknown questions with potential societal benefits, my project encourages collaboration with fellow students, collectively contributing to the development of something truly remarkable.

How will funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN help you reach your goals?

This micro-grant can be used to pay fees for the upcoming semester which of course directly supports my career. A portion of the funds can be allocated to settling the fees accrued on my credit card, a result of living independently near Athens for school. Furthermore, I intend to use a portion of the funds to establish my first savings account. This will bring me much closer to financial stability.