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Samantha Perez – December 2014 Scholar of the Month

CHCI-United Health Foundation Scholar Intern

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Degree: B.S., Biomedical Engineering

School: Duke University

Placement: House Research Institute Children’s Auditory Research and Evaluation (CARE), Los Angeles, California

“Eres campeona.” These words, so often repeated by her parents, are what drive Samantha Perez to achieve her goals and triumph above any circumstance. Her Mexican immigrant parents always tried to divert her attention from her family’s economic shortcomings by instilling the importance of education. Thus as a 6th grader, Samantha embraced her parents’ mantra and spearheaded the process of applying to local private schools. After finishing her studies at the prestigious Marlborough School in Los Angeles on a full-ride scholarship, she was determined to pursue a higher education and found her way to Duke University.

As a first-generation college student, Samantha wanted to be a role model for her younger siblings, members of her community, and other students who were struggling to achieve their dreams. Samantha has been involved with the First-Generation Network at Duke, where she has aided in the development of service projects meant to highlight the importance of higher education for underrepresented youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In addition, Samantha is passionate about encouraging younger students to pursue careers in science and engineering. She is actively involved in the creation, editing, and finalization of teaching modules for the Boeing Grand Challenges K-12 Outreach Program.

During her sophomore year, Samantha completed the 80-hour CHCI–United Health Foundation Scholar-Internship program, which allowed her to gain experience in the health field while giving back to her local underserved Latino community. She completed her internship at the House Research Institute Children’s Auditory Research and Evaluation (CARE) Center as a Spanish interpreter. During her various sessions with families, she was honored to witness the children’s amazement while hearing or speaking for the first time. This opportunity allowed Samantha to observe firsthand the positive impact of the integration of technology into medicine on a population’s quality of life. Samantha realized that the field of biomedical engineering embodied this collaborative nature and immediately knew she wanted to devote herself to pursuing and advancing this field. Since then, Samantha has been heavily involved in tissue engineering research.

As a Pratt undergraduate research fellow, Samantha is currently focused on increasing elastin production in rapidly producible tissue engineered blood vessels made from a collagen scaffold. Her study is part of a collaborative effort towards creating a microphysiological system for drug testing. She has shared her research by giving oral presentations at the Biomedical Engineering Society 2014 Annual Meeting and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers National Conference.

Upon completing her undergraduate career, Samantha wishes to embark on the journey towards a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. While completing her education, she will serve as a mentor to undergraduates and spearhead local outreach activities. After graduate school, Samantha intends to focus on translational research where she can convert basic results into efficient practical applications with beneficial impacts on today’s population. She is determined to demonstrate the potential Hispanics and women have in STEM fields. It is her dream to see an increase in the statistics that state that only 18.4% of engineering students are female while only 7% are Hispanic. She believes we are all champions who deserve to pursue our dreams regardless of our ethnicity, race, gender or background. ¡Todos somos campeones!