Next in the GCSP spotlight series is Rachel O’Brien.

Rachel is a junior studying Bioengineering and minoring in Spanish. She is a member Phi Sigma Rho (the engineering sorority at Oregon State), a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and is the lead undergraduate student for the Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Laboratory. She is currently on an internship at Medline Renewal in Redmond, Oregon. 

Her Grand Challenge is “Advance Health Informatics”. The goal of this challenge is to utilize modern technology to develop a systematic approach for the acquisition, management, and use of information in health, to greatly improve the quality and efficiency of medical care and responses to public health emergencies. 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 approach of medicine is best for each medical problem. Her involvement in the GCSP has allowed her to conduct undergraduate research in the Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Laboratory and represent Oregon State’s College of Engineering at the Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) in London last fall. 

To fulfill her research experience, Rachel works as the lead undergraduate for the Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Kate Schilke. Currently, this lab is working on a type of platform technology that could potentially cure sepsis. As part of this project, Rachel works on expressing genetically modified proteins for the purpose of creating a platform with a biomedical surface coating. Through this research, Rachel can successfully make genetically modified proteins and prove they work. As the lead undergraduate in the lab, she mentors two other undergraduate students and gets to see a variety of smaller projects within the larger scope of the lab. Currently Rachel is working to publish a paper where she will be the first author. 

This research experience impacted Rachel’s engineering education by helping her improve her planning, time-management, communication, teamwork, and technical writing skills. As someone who has a mentor but also mentors other students, Rachel quickly learned that communication and the ability to work collaboratively were key to being successful. 

“I think this experience made me more well-rounded, which is the whole point of the [Grand Challenge Scholars] program,” Rachel said. “This program allows you to become an engineer through hands-on experiences and become more than just a student who gets good grades. This experience has supported my personal growth and career path and it makes me appreciate the program a lot.” 

Rachel’s favorite part of her research is having a great mentor who cares for her both personally and academically. 

“My professor is awesome,” she said. “I am so lucky to have a mentor who cares about not only my academic growth but also my personal growth. She is constantly checking in and asking if there is anything she can help me with in my professional life. I think having a mentor like this was so critical to me flourishing as an engineer.”   

To fulfill her multicultural dimension, Rachel attended the Global Grand Challenges Summit in London. The summit consisted of workshops on personal growth, leadership, entrepreneurship, and professional development. One of the workshops consisted of her working with five other students to design a sustainable device and present the idea at a poster session and pitch competition. She enjoyed this workshop because she further developed her cultural knowledge by having the opportunity to work with students from different cultures and backgrounds. 

This experience impacted Rachel’s engineering education because she became aware that her decisions as an engineer have a sustainable impact and that sustainable solutions need to be applied on a global scale. 

“This experience helped me understand and be conscious that the decisions we make as engineers not only impact economics and technology but that every decision we make has a sustainable impact,” she said. “I think the biggest takeaway from the summit was that you can work with anybody if you are focused on a common goal. Therefore, we must use this cross-cultural knowledge to come up with sustainable solutions.” 

Rachel was honored to be one of two students from OSU who attended the Global Grand Challenges Summit. This experience diversified her education and allowed her to gain new perspectives on various cultures. It also allowed her to appreciate the GCSP. 

“I am just really grateful,” Rachel said. “The Grand Challenge Scholars Program is so much more than just checking off boxes or getting a leg up on your resume. It is about diversifying a student’s experience and about making you a great engineer. I had never been outside the United States before this experience, so the fact that the Grand Challenge Scholars Program has an interest in developing me culturally and giving me this experience abroad was amazing. It just shows how important I think this program is for people who want to learn more than just what’s in their classes.” 

Rachel enjoys the GCSP because of the person and engineer it helped her become. 

“I love the opportunities and the diversity,” she said. “I love the fact I was able to go abroad. It was incredible to me. I love that the program has an entrepreneurship element that challenges me to not just learn things, but to create. I also love how it focuses on applying my knowledge and skills to benefiting others with the service aspect. I think the whole point of the program is to take your skills, learn all that you can, and apply them in a way that benefits others. To me, being that person or developing into that person is critical to my own personal development. So, I am really happy I have this program to facilitate that.”