Bio: Emilia Grzesiak

Education: Duke University, Class of 2020

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Minor: Chemistry

GCS Advisor: Jessilyn Dunn, PhD., Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics

GC Focus: Engineering Better Medicines

GC Thesis Topic: Personalized Technology for Preventative Medicine

Why GCS:

I want to be a Grand Challenge Scholar because the Grand Challenges program would help me develop the skills to eventually achieve my career goals, which include utilizing data science and machine learning principles in order to build technology capable of predicting/preventing disease. The Grand Challenges program would ultimately strengthen my engineering skills and interdisciplinary education in order to shape me into a more well-rounded biomedical engineer.

How I Chose This Thesis Topic:

My passion for personalized technology and disease/injury prevention developed over time at Duke University, in part thanks to the many unique experiences offered to students like me.

Freshmen year, I decided to walk on to the D1 women’s rowing team even though I had never rowed before. I had been a track & field athlete all throughout high school, and my mother was a decorated athlete on the national Polish rowing team in her 20’s, so I decided to try this new sport out. From the challenging workouts and 4 hr/day practices, I very quickly became the strongest I have ever been and was amazed by the improvements in my performance. I felt that exercise had an almost magical effect on my body.

Unfortunately, I had developed an injury that forced me to forfeit D1 rowing. However, I was still fascinated by exercise physiology. I joined a neuroscience lab that investigated how aerobic exercise can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in women. Our team organized an “Exercise and the Brain” Symposium and invited an array of researchers to come and speak about the neuroprotective effects of exercise. Here, I learned that exercise really is the best form of disease prevention that we know of, and especially better than most medicinal interventions for cardiometabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. Through this experience, my view of healthcare had changed; I have recognized that most of society’s largest health issues are not going to be solved through modern medicine, but through preventing the manifestation of chronic health conditions. Medicine is not just treatment of existing health conditions—it’s also good health maintenance.

After the completion of my Bass Connections program, I joined Dr. Dunn’s BIG IDEAS lab because I wanted to combine this passion for disease prevention with biomedical engineering. Through analyzing wearable and clinical datasets, I have developed a deep appreciation for data science, machine learning, and big data processing. This research prepared me for my summer work at a digital health startup, which was an amazing experience.

I hope to apply what I have learned throughout my college research journey to my career. I have made my Grand Challenges portfolio topic the framework of my education both in and out of the classroom. I thank Duke University and the NAE Grand Challenges Organization for letting me explore and for teaching me how to be a more effective problem solver.

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