Finding a Home Away From Home

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Teni Akinwale (BME 4th Year) came to Illinois Institute of Technology for the unique opportunity to specialize in biomedical engineering as an undergraduate student.  Coming from Lagos, Nigeria, she also knew that she wanted to go to university in a major city.  “I thrive in cities,” says Teni. “The amount of culture that you can experience at Illinois Tech is amazing. There are students from all over the world, allowing one to have a college experience that is not only educationally sound but one that allows you to learn about the world from people who have been to the different parts of it.”

While her longstanding interest in biology and growing interest in technology made her confident that biomedical engineering was a good fit, Teni arrived at Illinois Tech unsure of where she wanted to take her career. 

Through taking courses she began to notice that she had a particular interest in the nervous system. It rekindled a fascination that first began when she was younger and found herself researching her own brachial plexus injury. “Even though I was initially deterred by its complexity, I was more intrigued and fascinated by the amazing connection and interaction between these specialized cells,” she says. “My disability allowed me to discover an area I could potentially contribute to.”

Wanting to dive deeper into neurological disorders, Teni applied for the Armour R&D program. This gave her the opportunity to work in Assistant Professor Keigo Kawaji’s lab on a project that aims to identify a biomarker for detecting Alzheimer's disease. 

“It took me some time to get comfortable with approaching professors, due to the stigma against approaching professors in Nigeria and the fact that I had to break out of my shell,” says Teni. “But in the world of research, I was able to see the applicability of what I have learned in the classroom and what I could potentially contribute to the improvement of health care.” Through the project, Teni developed computational methods to correct for artifacts in MRI images caused by a patient moving. She also developed an algorithm to extract the region of interest from the data. Teni enjoyed the experience so much that she pursued further research opportunities, including a second semester of Armour R&D. Beyond academics, Teni has enjoyed giving back to the Illinois Tech community. She has provided peer mentorship and tutoring to other students and has held leadership positions in the (ASO). “ASO has my heart,” says Teni. “I was able to meet the most amazing people through this organization, and it really became my home away from home.” Teni has decided to continue on the research path and has accepted an offer to study neuroengineering through a Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University after graduation.  “I can confidently consider myself one of the most diligent and hardworking people I know. I very rarely give up on tasks or objectives, and I feel most fulfilled when I am immersed in my work, putting my best foot forward,” says Teni. “I am really looking forward to learning more about the possibilities within the field and how I will make a novel and hopefully significant contribution to my field.”

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