Bridging the Gap Between Engineering, Medicine, and Global Health

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By Mary Ceron-Reyes

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In the early days of her college career, Austeja Staneviciute (BME ’20, M.S. CHE ’20) remembers feeling very anxious when asked the question, “What would you like to do when you graduate?”

While it was difficult to answer that question, Staneviciute says that taking advantage of all the unique opportunities at Illinois Tech helped her figure out the next steps in her career journey.

As a Camras scholar and recipient of the National Science Foundation’s graduate research fellowship, Staneviciute has challenged herself to dive into new research opportunities and internships and to actively participate in student organizations.

As a second-year student, Staneviciute decided to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering in order to further expand her knowledge. “I felt that having a degree in a different field would help me improve as an engineer because I could integrate knowledge from different disciplines to tackle and overcome obstacles,” she adds.

Currently, her research on cell and tissue engineering focuses on the regeneration of the bone and cartilage interface. Staneviciute explains, “My research goal is to create a 3D tissue model that influences mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into bone and cartilage cell lineages.” She hopes that her findings will contribute to the development of a minimally invasive cellular therapy for osteoarthritis patients.

Staneviciute says, “Through research I found wonderful mentors that have guided and supported me throughout my college years. Most importantly, the research opportunities helped me determine which career path I would like to pursue.”

She says she will always be grateful to the mentors in her life that have inspired her to follow in their footsteps by supporting women and young students in STEM.

In 2018 Staneviciute joined the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation through the Children’s National Summer Innovator Program, working alongside research and development engineer Paige Mass (BME ’17) on a minimally invasive technique to implant epicardia pacemakers. This mentorship experience solidified her vision of becoming an enthusiastic, resourceful, and empathetic engineer.

“My dream is to help people in need through advancements in scientific innovation. Next year I’m excited to begin my Ph.D. journey here at Illinois Tech because I will further nourish my skills and improve as an engineer and innovator,” says Staneviciute. She will continue to advance her bone and cartilage research within the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Staneviciute developed leadership and organizational skills on campus as treasurer and president of Illinois Tech’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. In 2018 her accomplishments were recognized with the chapter’s Woman of the Year Award for making significant contributions to the STEM community and for promoting the advancement of women in engineering.

One of her most memorable moments as a student was traveling with 10 of her fellow undergraduates from Illinois Tech’s MEDLIFE student organization to Riobamba, Ecuador, to assist with a medical brigade for low-income families. Students volunteered at mobile clinics and worked alongside dedicated physicians to deliver free health-care services to rural communities.

“I will never forget the conversation I had with a local elderly man. Even though he faced a tremendously challenging life and health issues, he was very optimistic and supportive of the new generation of students,” she says, adding that he inspired her to “become an innovator that will always give back to the community and help make scientific innovation accessible for all.”

Now, five years after first hearing that once cringe-worthy question, Staneviciute has a clear answer: her goal is to become a globally engaged researcher, bridging the gap between her passion for engineering, medicine, and global health to improve the patient experience.  

Photo: Engineering student Austeja Staneviciute (provided)