A Love Letter to Biomedical Engineering: Why I Chose BME

Hello there, reader. My name is Michelle Hefner and I am a fourth-year student in Biomedical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering here at CSU.  

Michelle Hefner on campus

The impact of BME

Imagine having the power to make a difference in millions of people’s lives around the world by innovating and advancing the way we as a human race approach our most complex problems in human health. Imagine being able to wake up every day and learn from people who believe in and aspire to achieve these same goals as you. Well, that’s kind of how I feel about studying biomedical engineering here in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering.  

Summertime Standouts: Michelle Hefner

There are so many incredible topics to studyamazing professors, and impressive researchers in the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) that create such a beautiful environment that exudes inspiration. won’t lie–the coursework is not easy–but it isn’t as hard to stay motivated and determined to get through and excel in my degree program when I know the outcome will be changing people’s lives in ways I cannot even fathom. And that’s exactly how I knew I wanted to study something to make an impact that big in the world, about 12 years ago.  

There’s a silver lining in every dark cloud

When I was 10 years old, life was pretty sweet. There wasn’t much to worry about besides not being late to basketball practice, filling out my reading log every night for school, and whether or not the kids in my neighborhood could go ride bikes with my sister and me in the evenings– you know, the coolest thing to do before social media was a big deal.

That is until one day when I came home from school and my mom and dad, with a quiet, somber demeanor, sat us down and told us my mom had gone to the doctor earlier that day and had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Yup, the c-word that scares us all as adults and is all the more confusing to a 10-year-old. 

...one day when I came home from school and my mom and dad, with a quiet, somber demeanor, sat us down and told us my mom had gone to the doctor earlier that day and had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer

At first, I didn’t really understand. Was my mom in pain? Can the doctor fix it? Was she going to die?? I mean what are you supposed to think about a parent being diagnosed with cancer when you’re 10? To be honest, I don’t truly remember my initial reaction, but I do remember was heart-broken, upset, and very confused. My mom did everything in her power, though, to make sure that we knew she was going to get through it, and everything was going to be okay. 

Fast forward to my mom going through various radiation treatments, surgery to remove her entire thyroid, and a lot of doctor’s visits, and she finally beat the cancer 

Thyroid gland infographic
Source: https://www.middleeastmedicalportal.com/thyroid-and-infertility-in-women/

Witnessing all of it was the most difficult thing I had to go through as a kidbut it also showed me that a huge part of the reason my mom was okay in the end was thanks to all the medical technology available. All the diagnostic imaging, surgical tools, treatments, and medications were used seamlessly by the medical professionals and I was so interested in how people invented and built these instruments and tools in the first place. Their ideas and inventions have truly saved so many lives–like my mother’s–while improving the quality of others, and I felt in my heart that that was the kind of impact I wanted to have on the world during my lifetime 

I felt in my heart that that was the kind of impact I wanted to have on the world during my lifetime

“OK Google, what is a biomedical engineer?”

So, no, I didn’t immediately think “I’m going to be a biomedical engineer now” when I was 10 years old, but I knew that I wanted to have a career someday where I could have the opportunity to create, research, and even invent some kind of medical technology or medicine in the future. That feeling of wanting to make a difference in this way never escaped my mind, and sure enough in high school I felt the same and knew I wanted to prepare for a career like this by going to university.

That feeling of wanting to make a difference in this way never escaped my mind

I thought engineering would be a good place to look for majors since I enjoyed math and science, but I didn’t know how exactly the medical aspect could be incorporated. So I reached out to my good friend, the internet, and quite literally googled “types of engineering.” It was there that I found biomedical engineering was something I could major in at a number of universities across the nation.

The rest is history and I enrolled into a biomedical engineering degree program my first year of university, although I did not end up at CSU right after high school–but that’s for another blog post. 

Michelle Hefner playing basketball

Finding my niche

Currently I am in my 4th year (out of 5) in the biomedical engineering and chemical and biological engineering degree program here in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. I have taken every opportunity I can to explore my interests using the different skills I acquire in my coursework, and in my third year I found myself in a laboratory in the College of Health and Human Sciences as an undergraduate researching computational neuroscience and machine learning techniques for data-driven approaches for understanding aging in the human brain. I love what I do, and I haven’t looked back since.

For future plans, I hope to further my study and research in computational neuroscience or bioinformatics in graduate school. Ultimately, I would like to have a professional research career where I can work to improve imaging for diagnosing life-threatening or debilitating diseases like my mom’s cancer, except related to aging in the human brain.  

Michelle at a computer doing research

I would like to have a professional research career where I can work to improve imaging for diagnosing life-threatening or debilitating diseases like my mom’s cancer

Advice to young students seeking a degree in biomedical engineering

I know for a fact that my story of how I came to choose to study biomedical engineering is surely different than most, but, in my opinion, that doesn’t mean you have to have some unique moment in which you have a revelation and decide that you want to study biomedical engineering. The discipline itself is so fascinating and fulfilling that I think any reason is a good reason to study and pursue a degree in biomedical engineering 

Like all other engineering disciplines, through our work we can bring people together, make the world safer, help the world learn, keep people healthy, and keep things running smoothly. At least to me, there is no better reward and that is beautiful.  

Thinking of biomedical engineering? You can see if the program or path is right for you here: https://www.engr.colostate.edu/sbme/ 

Michelle Hefner, Engineering Student Ambassador

Author: Michelle Hefner

Michelle is a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Biomedical Engineering dual-degree program with a partner major of Chemical and Biological Engineering. She enjoys playing basketball, making her coworkers laugh, leading the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student chapter, and listening to a variety of music. Michelle has career goals of pursuing a Ph.D and becoming a research scientist in neural engineering.  

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the engineering ambassador team at explore@engr.colostate.edu!