The GCSP spotlight series continues with Helena Raposo.
Helena is a junior studying bioengineering with a minor in biology. She is an ambassador for the College of Engineering, an intern for the Leadership Academy, a learning assistant for the 21X physics series, and a member of the all-female women of color dance group, 3D. She also conducts research on campus through the Physics department.
Her Grand Challenge is “Engineer Better Medicines”. The goal of this challenge is to promote the development of new systems to sense small changes in the body, assess new medications, and deliver vaccines to provide proper health care that is personalized for each individual. This challenge relates to the research and multicultural dimension components of the GCSP because research must be conducted to make further advancements in medicine and cultural perspectives need to be understood to determine what treatment is best for each individual. Her involvement in the GCSP has allowed her to conduct undergraduate research through the Oregon Health and Science University's (OHSU) Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) and represent Oregon State University at the Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in London.
To fulfill her research experience, Helena conducted a 10-week paid research fellowship through the ONPRC in Hillsboro, Oregon. As a bioengineering student interested in pursuing a career in medicine, she became particularly interested in conducting medical research. At the ONPRC, Helena worked with a substance called hyaluronic acid (HA) which is a protein found in the extracelular matrix of neural stem cells and other brain cells. Previous research has shown that there is a correlation between the amount of HA present in the brain and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Therefore, Helena performed several experiments with various concentrations of HA and examined how these concentrations impacted the neural stem cells. From this experience, she learned how scientific research works, how to properly create cultures of neural stem cells, and improved her problem-solving skills.
“I thought this experience was very enlightening because it was the first time I actually did research and most of it is was related to ‘Engineer Better Medicines’. I learned that for you to create a solution to a problem you must first understand how the problem works,” Helena says. “Understanding how different aspects of your brain affect how you learn and how these cells behave is very important for future studies to try and find ways to stop these neurodegenerative diseases. So, it was really cool that I was able to be a part of this research.”
Through this research experience, Helena learned that research requires many different iterations, just like engineering. This experience also gave her opportunities to expand her engineering education by giving her hands-on experience in a lab setting. It also greatly impacted her GCSP experience by making her challenge seem more obtainable as she learned that there are many individuals who are working toward the same goal as her.
“The main goal of ‘Engineer Better Medicines’ is about trying to personalize medicine because different people require a different source of treatment for their medical problems. I feel like it is so broad that sometimes it feels overwhelming to take on something like that, but doing what I did during the research, I realized that it’s not just me who’s doing it,” Helena says. “So many people around the world are trying to get to the same objective that I am. I realize that I only need to do what I can to contribute to that and that I am not alone in doing it.”
To fulfill her multicultural dimension, Helena represented Oregon State University at the Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in London this past September. The GGCS was a weeklong conference, organized by the National Academy of Engineering (USA), the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK), and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. She attended lectures, meetings, and workshops; one workshop she particularly enjoyed was on international policy. The workshop included an activity where the participants were split into two groups to represent developed and underdeveloped countries. The “developed country” group was then given an abundance of resources and had elected politicians who had to communicate with the underdeveloped country” to give them the resources they needed. Helena enjoyed this workshop because it gave her a better understanding of international policy and taught her that for engineers to have a voice, they must have support from politicians.
At the conference she also participated in a two-day pitch competition, where she was assigned a group with five other students from the US, UK, and China, who had to work together to come up with a product, develop a business plan, and pitch the idea to judges. Since the conference had a main topic of sustainability, her group created a machine that could scan chemical waste from a lab and properly dispose of it. Through this activity, Helena learned to appreciate working with engineering students who had different backgrounds and disciplines because they brought new experiences and perspectives to find a solution.
“Engineering is all about collaboration. If the collaboration is all from people who have the same backgrounds and experiences, then you tend to go toward the same ideas and direction and no advancements can be made. Sometimes going into different directions brings out something good,” Helena says of her experience.
She also learned that it is crucial for engineers to be able to successfully pitch their ideas.
“Engineers cannot just be engineers. We cannot just sit behind the scenes and do the math. To get our ideas out there we need to know how to communicate and know how to put our ideas in a way that people will like them and support them,” Helena says. “You could have the best idea in the world, but if you do not know how to communicate, then it would not actually work.”
Helena’s experience in the GCSP has helped her become a better engineer. These experiences have allowed her to appreciate group projects more and have shown her that she is not alone in her challenge “Engineer Better Medicines”. She enjoys being in the GCSP because it has given her new opportunities to expand her engineering education.
“I like the opportunities the Grand Challenge Scholars Program offers and appreciate that we are all reaching for a higher standard and that we are putting ourselves out there. I feel very happy that there are other people at Oregon State who have the same mindset as me,” Helena says. “I enjoy challenging myself, especially when it’s towards a goal that is close to my heart. A lot of people have reservations about putting themselves out there, but I like doing it even though it might be scary sometimes because I know I will become stronger and will be closer to reaching my goals.”