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Student Spotlight: Rachelle Walter

Rachelle_Walter11GAEver since she was a kid, Rachelle Walter has wavered between pursuing a career in the medical field and studying engineering. When she came across the new undergraduate bioengineering program at CU Denver, she thought it was a perfect match. Now that she’s completed her first year, she’s certain she made the right choice. The course work is challenging, but Walter knows you have to work hard to get what you want—it’s a lesson she learned from watching her father, and one she appreciates every day. As she begins her second year in the program, Walter is doing all she can to make sure her dreams become a reality.

“I really like the program in that it’s new and that it’s smaller,” says Walter. “They’re teaching us material from industry that we will be able to do when we leave the program. Knowing we’ll be prepared is really awesome.”

One of her favorite aspects of the program is that the required foundational course work covers all areas of bioengineering. She says it’s helped her figure out areas within bioengineering on which she wants to focus—and those she doesn’t—so that when her third and fourth years come around she can choose a courses that best match her interests. She also appreciates the opportunities presented by a new and innovative program.

This past summer Walter participated in the prestigious American Physiological Society (APS) Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship program, which funds undergraduate students to do research for a 10-week period. The program is designed to introduce students to a scientific research career in which each student works on his or her own research question in an established APS investigator laboratory. Walter worked with Richard Benninger, assistant professor in bioengineering, and post-doctoral researcher Nikki Farnsworth, to investigate pro-inflammatory cytokine induced changes in gap junction coupling in the pancreatic islet and to determine a potential mechanism for overcoming these changes. This study will help to researchers understand more about the early stages of development in Type I and Type II Diabetes and could potentially lead to therapeutic targets to inhibit or delay their development.

“With diabetes, you have an accomplishable goal,” she says. “There are so many things people are still learning, but you know exactly what you’re looking for. This disease doesn’t change over time, which is really awesome to get into.”

In addition to the research award, Walter also received a travel grant to the 2015 APS annual Experimental Biology meeting in Boston to present her research data.

Walter applied to the APS fellowship program with the hopes of gaining hands-on research experience and the opportunity to decide whether she enjoyed it. Ultimately, she wants to continue into either the National Institutes of Health Medical Scientist Training Program or the MD/PhD bioengineering program. And although her eye is on graduate programs, she has some additional goals she wants to accomplish, including becoming fluent in German and learning about law.

“My back-up plan is to become a patent lawyer,” she says. “I don’t want to have just one path planned because things can change.”

Regardless of the path she chooses, Walter knows her hard work will pay off. “My greatest inspiration is my dad,” she says. “He led by example and showed me that if you try hard and put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. My dad instilled a work ethic into me and helped me become independent. He taught me to be how I am today.”

For now, her experiences in the bioengineering program have made her more confident in her current path. “I want to help people and to make a difference. I can’t wait to gain more knowledge about research and also contribute to the advancement of medicine.”

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