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Hajim Spotlights

Emily Schiller

Class year: 2021
Major: biological sciences
Challenge: Engineer the Tools for Scientific Discovery

How did you hear about the Grand Challenges Program?

I first heard about the Grand Challenges Program during my first year at an Engineers Without Bordersgeneral meeting.

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

I decided to apply for the Grand Challenges program because I was already working on a project on the University’s iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machines) team and saw how this project met the goals of the Grand Challenges program.

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

The service competency was my favorite! I really enjoyed creating virtual synthetic biology lessons for elementary and high school students. Finding ways to convey science principles to a wide age range in a virtual format was a challenge but it was worth it to see the students’ curiosity and excitement peak during the lessons. I hope I inspired some students to pursue synthetic biology and use it to solve world problems in their future!

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

Absolutely! My project was to tackle the lack of noninvasive diagnostics for endometriosis. One approach I took utilized machine learning to create a symptoms-based predictive model for this disease. I am going to medical school this fall and want to continue developing noninvasive diagnostics, potentially through machine learning and artificial intelligence, to reduce the cost and burden of diagnostics.

How did being at the University of Rochester help you to complete this program?

I was able to complete this program by being on the University’s iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machines) team! Being an interdisciplinary team, we constantly challenged each other to think of new approaches to address endometriosis diagnostics. This collaborate and diverse environment, which is present throughout the University, pushed us to create multifaceted solutions. This project also would not have been possible without the support of the faculty at both University and University of Rochester Medical Center who generously provided guidance and feedback throughout the year.

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

Completing the Grand Challenges program has helped me to understand that effectively addressing a problem requires collaboration and taking on multiple perspectives. I also learned how solutions should be developed with their implementation at the forefront of design.

Emily's poster

Emily Schiller ‘21—biological sciences