Michaela Rikard, a senior in biomedical engineering, visited the White House in March to discuss the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, an effort undertaken by 120 deans of engineering to train students who can tackle the most vexing issues facing mankind in the 21st century.
Tell us about the College’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program.
It is a national program that aims to develop engineers uniquely qualified to tackle the Grand Challenges of Engineering, as described by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The idea is to develop engineers with the appropriate technical and research experience, but also with exposure to business, entrepreneurship and service learning.
Which of these challenges have you been most focused on?
I am focused on engineering better medicines. I spent a summer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center researching better methods to prevent and treat heterotopic ossification, a complication commonly developed in soldiers with amputations. I also participated in research in a pharmacoengineering lab at NC State, using nanomaterials to develop better drug delivery systems for cancer treatment.
How was your White House visit?
What a whirlwind of a trip and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! I met many incredible leaders in NAE, the Office of Science and Technology at the White House and President Obama! I attended the White House Science Fair, which showcased K-20 science and engineering projects, and participated in a meeting of more than 60 deans of engineering from around the country on the future of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.
You are also part of the College’s Engineering Ambassadors program. Tell us about that.
Honestly, it has been the most rewarding experience of my college career. I am surrounded by such dedicated, passionate and inspirational people. I can only imagine the tremendous impact that each of my peers will have in their future careers. It has also given me the opportunity to get to know the wonderful faculty members and administrators who make this university the great place that it is!
What are you most looking forward to in your senior year?
I am definitely looking forward to senior design. The biomedical engineering department has a unique senior design experience that allows you to take the process all the way from identifying a problem in local hospitals and clinics to developing a solution and prototype. The focus on design, innovation and entrepreneurship often leads to start-up companies that spin out of senior design.
You also work as an emergency medical technician. Why were you interested in that?
My interest in becoming an EMT started with a medical service trip to Ecuador. I wanted the skills to be able to treat patients, and why wait until medical school to start? The trip also sparked a passion for global health that I hope to incorporate as a significant part of my career. I’m excited about leading a team back to Ecuador next spring!