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Hajim Spotlights

Alexandra Frederickson

Class year: 2018
Major: Biological Sciences: Molecular Genetics Track (BMG)
Challenge: Engineer Better Medicines

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges program?

I work for iZone (a space on campus for students to innovate and create projects) so I had a meeting with Emma Derisi and Julia Mattox (director of iZone) because Emma was reaching out to hear about our entrepreneurial workshops and what we offer. Emma highlighted what the Grand Challenges program requires, and Julia joked that I have all the criteria met, and I do.

I was introduced to design thinking through iZone and was doing my own research to see if people were talking about it in the scientific community the way it was talked about in business and social enterprise. In the Grand Challenges project, I was incorporating design thinking into the different competencies I had achieved. There is a patient-focused drug development initiative by the FDA that seems like a user-centered “strainer” that would weed out drugs and treatments that would cause undue stress for patients. They were really taking the patients and their experiences and relating them to how they choose to evaluate different drugs to put on the market. I thought, “This is happening at the end of the process, and it should be happening earlier on.” This was the basis of my project, and it allowed me to weave in my clinical psychology minor and research into this bigger design thinking project.

Why did you decide to apply for the Grand Challenges program?

I decided that I had done everything, so why not. The way Emma described it was: “This can help you put everything into focus.” I recently had a revelation that I did not want to get a PhD yet, and I was in a space to redefine myself. This is something tangible that I could show, like my poster, and I can have it forever. That is something that I’ve produced. 

Which of the five “competencies” (research, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship/innovation, global, service) did you most enjoy completing? Why?

The most fun was the service one. What I do at iZone is help facilitate our workshops around design thinking and entrepreneurial skills. It’s part of my personal mission: getting design thinking out to any sphere and adapting it to any audience or user. It was fun because I had to use my creativity to adapt this model seemingly set in stone for use by business and tech startups and shift it to the perspective of multiple different types of UR students. I drew upon the fact that not everyone is going to see it the same. And I went to Europe for my global experience, which was amazing.

Do you think you will want to continue working in the field of your “challenge” after graduation? How?

I want to eventually get into pharmaceuticals long term. In what capacity, I’m not sure. Right now, I’m going into the TEAM program (master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management) next year in biomanufacturing and therapeutic development. I see myself after the master’s going into consulting or pharmaceutical communications, where I can get exposure on the business side and understand how their minds work that way. I could help start integrating these next-design thinking steps into their business design. 

You were able to have most, if not all, of your competencies completed by this year before applying to be a Grand Challenges Scholar. How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

Most of the competencies are built into what’s expected of a UR student. A lot of people I know go abroad in great programs. There’s the research component, and almost everyone I know has felt encouraged to do research. Because we are a research university, it’s second nature and a big draw for students. The curriculum really emphasizes getting a different perspective on something you’re really passionate about. I have come to learn that’s kind of an artful thing that the University does. With a cluster, they want you to get the depth and the breadth in everything that you do. It’s interesting to see how that develops into the students that we produce. It is built into our culture to complete this challenge. It’s a nice recognition for thinking about it in a holistic way and putting it all together. 

For you, what is the value of the Grand Challenges program?

It really is the reflection time. But that’s coming from me applying as a senior. If you come in as a freshman and you really want to take this path and you don’t know your direction, it encourages you to get a lot of different perspectives while also going to an end goal. I also really appreciate that you can enter in as a senior. Not many programs are like that, and that’s kind of daunting, because how do you know [as a freshman] if you’re going to be qualified? Having the opportunity to do that so last minute is also really nice. It doesn’t take away from the value at all.

It’s a nice way, in a practical sense, of discussing your passions, in a way that doesn’t strictly conform to whatever department or field of study that you have found yourself majoring in or doing research in. With my poster, I got to talk about things in a really integrated and connected way that really makes sense to me. And it’s a conversation starter.

I’m excited to see the program grow. I’m excited to see how the projects change. When I was talking to Emma and Julia, we were talking about where this can go and what it can become. I can see art students doing this and it’s an engineering-based program, and I think that’s so cool and what Rochester is all about. All the administrators here want students to understand that we want you to not just be an engineer but a well-rounded student.

Alexandra Frederickson '18—biological sciences (molecular genetics track)