I grew up in the farmlands of Pennsylvania, surrounded by people who looked like me, who shared many of the same traditions and cultures, and who were from a similar socioeconomic class. Moving to Durham, North Carolina as a 17-year-old to study at Duke was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life for many reasons, but I am specifically grateful for the diversity I have been exposed to. Over the last decade, my friends have introduced me to new traditions such as Diwali, Holi, el Día de los Muertos, and Chinese New Year, as well as cuisines like Korean short ribs, garlic naan, gallo pinto, and chicken & waffles. My friends taught me how to identify the ethnicities of various surnames and have encouraged me to learn some basic linguistic tones. In my classes, I make it a priority to learn everyone’s names (including the proper pronunciations), as I believe it is one of the most fundamental ways to connect to students. Widening my understanding of different cultures has even made me appreciate my own family traditions more, and I hope to continue to broaden my horizons as I meet new people. On the contrary, Duke has forced me to experience what it is like being from a lower socioeconomic class than most of my peers. My friends thought nothing of going on extravagant trips, dining at five-star restaurants, wearing designer clothing, or hiring private tutors. These were things I could not afford without burdening my family, and it forced me to have some difficult conversations with my friends. As a result, I am dedicated to being a lifeline for students in similar situations to help them navigate success in college, both academically and socially.
As an instructor, I am committed to making my classes welcoming and accessible for all students. Earlier this year I participated in a series of seminars hosted by the Duke Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, where I learned about the history of oppression the LGBTQIA+ community has faced, the importance of sharing pronouns, and how to be a strong ally now and in the future. I completed an introductory American Sign Language course through Durham Technical Community College this fall where I learned basic ways to communicate with the Deaf community, which I hope may one day help me interact with a student who is Deaf. I also vow to avoid assigning expensive textbooks, whenever possible, in my classes unless they can be accessed for free from the university library or some other source, as purchasing textbooks put a financial strain on my family and me in the past. Furthermore, I recorded my online TA seminars to enable two students who could not get a student visa due to the pandemic to write brief reflections about the topics covered in each class in lieu of synchronous participation. Prior to COVID-19 I had limited experience with remote instruction, and I found it challenging to accommodate a student who suddenly went on medical leave in Spring 2019. I wanted to ensure the student could be successful in the course despite not being able to attend lectures, labs, office hours, etc. To do so, I set up my webcam during labs so the student could participate via FaceTime. I also held virtual office hours, and I was just a phone call away in case they had questions while they took exams. While it was difficult at the time, I adapted, and the experience better prepared me for when everything shifted online due to the pandemic.
While most instructors (myself included) are eager to return to in-person instruction as health and safety protocols permit, I believe the pandemic has positively influenced learning accessibility, including asynchronous participation, virtual office hours, and recorded lectures with closed captioning. To that end, I plan to ensure all TAs in my TA seminar are familiar with Zoom’s many valuable features. Familiarity with these resources will improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for students with different needs, and it will ensure everyone is prepared to revert to remote learning if need be. I believe this will not only immediately benefit the TAs and their students, but it will also serve them well for future remote collaboration and communication in the workforce.
Virtual learning during the pandemic has also enabled me to extend my reach as a tutor significantly. I have tutored students in 16 states at a total of 39 universities in the United States via Zoom from the comfort of my apartment (Figure 1). Most of my students have been in biomedical engineering/bioengineering programs, which has exposed me to many different teaching tactics and assignments at various institutions across the country. It has also forced me to adapt to each student’s needs and to consider their unique backgrounds, which I believe has made me a more well-rounded educator. The pandemic was certainly challenging for students and teachers, but I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with so many students I wouldn’t have otherwise connected with and to learn fresh perspectives from the biomedical engineering community. I plan to tap into this experience as I design future courses, as it has provided me with many alternative ways of thinking about biomedical engineering concepts, and I think it could greatly benefit my students.
Finally, my primary area of interest in terms of outreach is promoting participation in STEM fields among underrepresented groups. To this goal, I currently tutor students through the Duke STEM Pathways for Inclusion, Readiness, and Excellence program, which is exclusively for undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds who are studying in STEM majors. I’ve also tutored master’s students from Makerere University in Uganda who participated in the Duke-Makerere BME Partnership program. However, my interests are not limited to the college level. I’ve also taught female-identifying middle school students as part of the Duke Females and Allies Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES+) program annually for over 5 years, and I’ve led teams of high school girls through various orthopaedic surgery and engineering activities as a volunteer with the Perry Initiative. I am always seeking ways to give back and to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, and I will continue to advance these efforts as I begin my professional career. These types of outreach will particularly be important for encouraging middle and high school students from underrepresented populations to learn more about what a biomedical engineer does, as this will help diversity the biomedical engineering student body.
Once students are drawn to biomedical engineering, the next objective is to support them in ways to sustain this interest. I would institute multi-level peer mentoring groups designed to connect undergraduate, master’s, and PhD students with each other and to faculty members, peer tutoring opportunities to aid students who are struggling academically, and additional contact hours with course instructors and TAs, as needed, to provide extra mentorship and support. In the end, the objective is to not only attract students to study biomedical engineering, but to also ensure they are successful. I would welcome the opportunity to help turn this vision into a reality.