On Being a Distinguished Communicator

My journey through the Distinguished Communicator program has broadened my horizons and given me the skills to expand upon the lofty goals I brought with me to LSU. The resources afforded to me as a Distinguished Communicator candidate helped me to transform myself from a shy, quiet high school student into a confident and capable engineer, mentor, and communicator. I discovered that I never actually feared public speaking; I had just never found the things I was passionate speaking about or developed the skills I already had. The holistic education I have received at LSU through the LA-STEM Research Scholars Program, the Honors College, and Communication Across the Curriculum has given me the knowledge, skills, and experience to succeed in a top tier biomedical engineering PhD program.

Building my digital portfolio helped me to set my focus on things coming after graduation from an early date. That perspective guided me to wise choices in course work and projects. I learned how to build websites, design complex parts in 3D engineering software, write successful research proposals, and give effective scientific presentations. This learning process taught me focus and time management, and those skills will be a tremendous benefit in my career in research. The experiences I have had in the Distinguished Communicator program far exceeded anything I could have imagined as an incoming freshman. I have gotten to conduct research in an internationally renowned European laboratory, work alongside pioneering researchers at Harvard University, and win the Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate research scholarship in the nation.

It would be impossible to give an exhaustive list of every person who has played a role in my successes at LSU and beyond. In this brief space, I would like to thank my research mentor, Daniel Hayes; Isiah Warner, Melissa Crawford, and the rest of the students and staff of the LA-STEM program; Danielle Rand and the rest of my research group at imec; Randy Duran, Jennifer Loftin, and the HHMI International Research Program; David Weitz, Peter Yunker, Kathryn Hollar, and John Free at Harvard University; and, of course, everyone that has been involved with Communication Across the Curriculum during my career at LSU.

To future Distinguished Communicators, take full advantage of the resources that CxC and LSU offers you. Set goals and achieve them, learn new skills, and build lifelong personal and professional relationships with other high achieving students. Above all, enjoy the experience to the fullest, because you only get one chance to be a Tiger.

HHMI International Research Internship – IMEC Belgium

From June to December of 2012, I worked as a research intern at imec, an internationally recognized research laboratory in Leuven, Belgium. I came to Leuven as a part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Program along with a small group of exceptional undergraduate researchers from around the nation. I spent those 7 months working with Danielle Rand, a researcher in the Bioelectronic Systems department. Dr. Rand and I designed a method to quickly evaluate a wide variety of biomaterials for a number of projects and technologies being developed at imec. We studied the process of non-specific protein adsorption to the surfaces of materials implanted into the body, and designed an assay to distinguish between coatings based on their ability to prevent this adsorption of proteins. My work will be used in three larger projects currently in progress at imec: implantable neural prostheses, silicon biosensors, and CMOS microfluidics.

Imec was an exciting and intellectually stimulating place to work. There were scientists and students from universities big and small, technology companies local and global, and staff scientists from every corner of the world. Although it is undeniably true that English is the language of science – and the predominant language at imec – it greatly enhanced my communication skills just to be around such a diverse group of people. I gave bi-weekly presentations to both my project group and our collaborators from JSR, a global materials, polymer, and microelectronics company based in Japan. I received invaluable guidance and practice in the crucial skill of scientific communication. In addition, I also authored a scientific poster and presented it at an HHMI conference in Grenoble, France.

In addition to the invaluable training in professional communication, traveling around Europe and engaging with different cultures was a life-changing experience in and of itself. Whether is was the Olympics in London, the Vatican in Rome, or the restaurants and classrooms of Leuven, I always met fascinating people and learned something new about the world. As someone who is naturally quiet and reserved, it was a jolt of confidence learning that I could have engaging conversation with anyone I met, whether they were Belgian chocolatiers, Iranian college students, Japanese businessmen, or strangers on the streets from Norway to Italy.

I have already taken these lessons to heart, presenting on my research and cultural experiences to my laboratory group and to younger students in the LA-STEM scholarship program. I have also written a feature article for the LSU Academic Programs Abroad website. I will use the skills I learned at imec to create concise and informative presentations and become an engaging and personal speaker.

Teaching English with the Baton Rouge Refugee Ministry

Since February 2012, I have been working with a network of local churches to serve the growing Baton Rouge refugee community. Our primary outreach is English lessons, but we also do home repairs, doctor visits, and job placement. I have served as one of the primary beginning English teachers, working with students young and old who speak little to no English at all. My classes were composed of students from all over the world – Syria, Burma, Iraq, Nepal, and Sudan, to name a few. I taught the alphabet and phonics, counting and money, reading and writing, and basic conversation skills. I discovered the importance of simple and concise communication, and the importance of engaging each person in the audience. It is challenging attempting to communicate to people who very often have had no formal education and cannot even read or write their own language. But all that labor is worthwhile when you see someone’s eyes light up when they read for the first time or say their ABC’s.

Currently, I am teaching an advanced English class and developing an American history course for students preparing to apply for citizenship and take high school equivalency exams. Although I am an engineer and a scientist by training, a lifetime of reading and travel, supplemented by caring parents and gifted educators, has given me a passion for history and education. Trying to condense the most essential American ideas down to an accessible level has proven to be one of the most intellectually challenging and exciting endeavors I have ever undertaken. In a recent lesson, I talked about the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I saw the same excitement in my students’ eyes that I had as a kid. It is still a struggle to bring the long and colorful story of this country down to its most basic level, but is a story that deserves to be told. It gives me great joy to know that my students will one day be able to add their own voices to it.

Working with students makes me thankful for the wonderful people through the years who have personally invested in my education. Those relationships have played such a crucial role in my own life, and I try to provide that same level of individual attention in my leadership and service. Whether in the laboratory or the classroom, I relish the opportunity to teach and mentor, and that is crucial to the type of work I hope to do in the future.