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Matthew Mikhail of Albany, N.Y., studied biological engineering
Main Cornell extracurricular activity -- why is it important to you?
Through the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program, I have been actively involved doing research in the bioengineering department, working on the engineering applications of DNA as a structural polymer. Using the DNA hydrogels discovered in our lab, I've been developing gene expression systems that have proven more efficient and versatile than current processes. This technology could have potential application in areas ranging from first-response vaccine production to more efficient enzymes for biofuel processing.
While at Cornell, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
To get involved in service off campus, friends and I started the 'What's in a Doctor's Bag' outreach program. We visited elementary school classrooms, performing short skits to familiarize children with what to expect at a checkup. The program has been incredibly rewarding. I've also been a proud part of Cornell's Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, where I serve as an officer of our chapter. Within the group we've coordinated a yearly Science and Engineering Fair and provided informal tutoring to younger engineers. I've ralso been actively involved in Cornell's Institute of Biological Engineers.
Your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
During my first-year engineering courses, it was tough for me to decide what I would focus on. I knew I loved physics but wanted to do something concrete, that could directly impact the way people live. At the end of that year, I remember sitting in on an introductory biology class, completely fascinated. It was then that I realized bioengineering would be the ideal discipline, drawing on engineering and physics, with application in human health and medicine.
Did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
I've discovered that my breadth of interest is much larger than I first imagined. I've had the chance to listen in on many talks, on topics ranging from engineering and science to classics and humanities. In particular, I recall learning about film and linguistics, which have offered entirely new, yet interesting perspectives. I've also realized that, more than anything, it is the interplay between these different disciplines and the interaction between those with differing outlooks, that often leads to the best new ideas.
What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Next year I will attend medical school at Yale University, where I plan to supplement my health care training with a continued involvement in biomedical research. Within 10 years, I hope to formalize my research motivation by also pursuing a Ph.D., which will help me investigate translational medicine and bring new medical technology into the clinical setting.
What Cornell-related scholarships/special financial benefits did you receive?
I've been fortunate to receive a McMullen's Dean Scholarship, as well as a Robert D. Kennedy Scholarship. They have provided the means with which I was able to attend Cornell. Also, funding by the Cornell Presidential Research Scholars program made it possible for me to stay in Ithaca over a summer and continue my research.
What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
The peaceful beauty of my junior summer, when I stayed two months doing research in Ithaca.