For the second consecutive year, a Michigan Tech student has been awarded one of the nation's most prestigious undergraduate research scholarships.
Kaylee Meyers, a third-year student at Michigan Technological University, has received one of the nation’s highest accolades for college undergraduates. The biomedical engineering major from Essexville, Michigan is the 12th Michigan Tech student to receive the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
Established in 1989 by Congress to honor the late Arizona senator and administered by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, Goldwater scholarships are awarded to college sophomores and juniors. The awards are based on academic merit, research experience and intent to pursue a career in science, engineering or mathematics.
As part of the selection process, colleges nominate up to four students who intend to pursue a career in research and have at least a 3.0 GPA. As one of 396 recipients selected from approximately 5,000 nominees, Meyers will receive a financial award to be used on expenses like tuition, books, and room and board for her senior year.
Helping to Heal
Meyers developed a “passion for engineering” while involved with FIRST Robotics in high school. “But I also really wanted to work in the medical field, so biomedical engineering was the perfect combination of the two,” she said.
Meyers’ research focuses on engineered biomaterials. “More specifically, injectable biomaterials that could be used to accelerate wound healing in injured tendons,” she said.
“Kaylee’s work has led to novel data regarding how injectable biomaterials can be used to control cell and molecular mechanisms involved in tendon repair,” said Meyer's research advisor, Rupak Rajachar, a principal lecturer in biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech. “These findings are the basis for one of two first-author manuscripts she is currently writing.”
Meyers’ second manuscript contains the results of her creative efforts to help build a table-top ultrasound system for use in targeted drug delivery from biomaterials.
Meyers’ and Rajachar’s research was recently awarded a second grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work on incorporating focused ultrasound into the research through a collaborative project with Michigan Tech alumnus Eli Vlaisavljevich, a past Goldwater Scholarship recipient, member of the Engineered Biomaterials Lab community and current faculty at Virginia Tech.
In addition to the NIH grant and Goldwater Scholarship, Meyers’ research has received support from the Portage Health Foundation and the Charles Steger Global Internship Award from the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. She said such funding for undergraduate research is vital.
“I think outside funding is essential for the undergraduate research we do in the lab, as it enables us to work on solving really interesting engineering problems,” she said.
An Early Start
Meyers’ Michigan Tech journey began at the University’s Summer Youth Program (SYP). When she first set foot on campus in 2016, she couldn’t foresee the path she would take, but she knew from the start she was at a special place.
“The summer after my junior year of high school, I attended MTU’s Women in Engineering Program,” Meyers said. “I learned a lot about engineering and had a chance to explore the campus and surrounding area.”
A self-described “avid outdoorswoman” who loves to hike, bike, ski, trail run and kayak, she knew that Tech's academics and location would be a good fit. A few months later, she discovered that the “good fit” extended to the classroom and lab as well.
“As a senior, I attended MTU Preview Day, where I met my research advisor, Dr. Rajachar, and his Engineered Biomaterials Lab group,” she said. “Through them, I learned about the close campus community and what undergraduate research was like at Tech. It reinforced my decision to come here.”
Continuing a Proud Tradition
Meyers is Michigan Tech’s fourth Goldwater Scholarship recipient in the past five years and the second consecutive MTU student to be so honored. Third-year biological sciences major Tessa Steenwinkel won the scholarship last year.
Meyer’s long-term goals are to earn her PhD in biomedical engineering and eventually run a research lab of her own as a principal investigator and university professor.
"I believe Tech is very good at promoting students from all backgrounds in STEM fields, especially through youth outreach and our supportive campus community."
Rajachar said it is exciting to see the potential broader impact Meyers can have both as a graduate student and future mentor to the next generation of students in STEM fields.
“She recognizes that the greatest gift any scientific mentor can provide is their time and an environment that empowers young students to believe in hard work and their own ability to solve problems,” he said.
Meyers is in impressive company as the fifth Michigan Tech biomedical engineering major to receive a Goldwater Scholarship, more than any other discipline at the University, and the third to be mentored by Rajachar.
Vlaisavljevich, who won the scholarship in 2009, is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech and has established a laboratory developing therapeutic ultrasound tools. 2012 scholarship recipient Hal Holmes is a lead engineer at Conservation X Labs, developing cutting-edge genetic testing technology for conservation.
Rajachar is confident Meyers will live up to the high standard set by her predecessors. “I truly believe that Kaylee can meet or exceed the success of any previous student from my lab,” he said. “I highlight their achievements thus far as scientists not only to convey the significance of the Goldwater and the strength of my belief in Kaylee, but more importantly to recognize that each of them also serves as a mentor to Kaylee, helping her as she works diligently toward meeting what I believe is her great promise as a scientist and engineer.”
When the time comes for Meyers to mentor students of her own, she’ll reflect on her personal role model. “I want to thank my research advisor, Dr. Rajachar, for providing me and many other students the opportunity to get involved in undergraduate research in an encouraging and intellectually stimulating environment,” she said. “I am very fortunate to have him as a mentor.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.