Following her interest in mechanical engineering and the encouragement of her parents, Mireya Sosa-Vanegas moved from California and enrolled at the University of Colorado Denver in the master’s-level mechanical engineering biomechanics track. She is the program’s first graduate. Through the experience, Sosa-Vanegas discovered a passion for applying mechanical engineering how the body functions, gained experience through research projects and an internship, and found her career path.
“I always wanted to study mechanical engineering, but I wasn’t sure which field. Having taken classes with Drs. [Dana] Carpenter and [Christopher] Yakacki, it was a really easy decision,” she said. “I found the research fascinating.”
Her inspiration came to light when she took Biomechanical Analysis Using Medical Imaging with Carpenter. The course included a semester-long project; she designed a 3-D model of an osteocyte — the cells within a bone — and then used the model to observe and study the effect of stress on the osteocyte. Osteocytes are thought to cause the balance between bone destruction and bone creation.
“The goal was to stress that model to see if there was any strain [on] the osteocytes,” she explained. “If the bone cells aren’t straining properly, that could cause faulty destruction or creation of the bone, which can contribute to osteoporosis.”
Over the course of the semester, her research results were inconclusive. However, she was able to carry the project to a sports engineering class, tweak the model, work with a group of students and get measurable results.
“It was so great to be able to continue working with the model and actually see the stress on the bone cells,” she said. “I realized I was finally in a place where I could apply all I’d learned in books and lectures — it wasn’t just doing homework anymore.”
In lieu of a thesis or final project, Sosa-Vanegas opted instead to complete an internship with AlloSource, a nonprofit organization that develops, processes and distributes donated tissues including ligaments, tendons, bones and more. The experience exposed her to the diversity of the mechanical engineering field by providing a balance of biomechanical analysis and mechanical engineering. Her position focused on quality control, ensuring the machines used to test tissues were operating correctly and verifying that the tissues received were eligible to be sent to recipients.
“The biggest takeaway was realizing the vastness of the mechanical engineering and biomechanics fields,” she said. “You can do anything; it’s amazing.”
Overall, the program gave Sosa-Vanegas the encouragement and confidence to pursue a career with a biomedical firm. She hopes to one day make a big impact.
“Many aspects of biomechanical engineering are aimed at improving the quality of life, not just when people get older but for anyone with an injury or a sports injury,” she explained. “The technology is advancing in such a way that they’re able to go back and continue in their sport. Or in the military, wounded veterans are able to have a better quality of life — I think that’s the biggest thing.”