Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My ambitious dream career

For some people the last time the phrase "my dream career" actually meant something, was when they were 6. For me though, I've discovered a new dream.  I don’t know how I ended up being obsessed with this career, but I remember the first spark. 

I read the Chronicle of Higher Education regularly and love how it is centered on what makes up the major part of my life: higher education.  One day I saw this article, “The Look of Leadership in the Ivy League”, and my mind was… well, not really blown, but I was surprised; in a good way.

Out of 8 Ivy League schools, the presidents of 5 of them are women. Amy Gutmann (Penn) , Shirley Tilghman (Princeton), Drew Faust (Harvard), Carol Folt (recently moved from Dartmouth to UNC Chapel Hill) and Christina Paxon (Brown).  Think about it for a second. We hear every day how little the participation of women is in leadership roles, even though they now make up about half of the labor force in the nation, and yet in many of the most prestigious universities in the nation women take the lead.

Higher education (and grad school more so) honestly has not ended up being my most pleasant experience so far. Male-dominated environment, (sometimes) low quality of core lectures, uncharted responsibility of advisors and students, and several more issues make the scientific challenge of PhD seem like a minor issue. But I believe the school can help and the leadership makes a difference. I believe there is a lot more to administrative positions in higher education. And guess what? I feel like I finally have a career that I can dream about. 

It took me some introspection to recall how I have always had an open eye to examine a school, or university, as a system and see it the way a critic does. Furthermore, being a practical person (engineer mentality), I was always looking for a solution for whatever flaw that I observed. Combine it with my passion for teaching; you see where it took me.  I do not obsess over being a university president (however, that’s my favorite); all I care is to be at a position to plan, change and improve an educational complex. I literally day dream about that every day now. And without even having to search a lot, I already have 5 role models right in front of my eyes; one of them a few blocks away.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My PennApps Experience

My first time at PennApps, this fall, was an experience beyond my imagination. I imagined that not much would come out of it for me due to my lack of experience with coding. I imagined that I would not even finish a product. I imagined that everyone would keep to themselves while coding. And lastly, I imagined some sleep…

            However, my experience was the complete opposite and has really shown me the beauty behind learning computer science. My friends Debbie Ly (a junior double majoring in computer science & fine arts) and Riddhi Sanwal (a sophomore in Networked & Social Systems Engineering) joined me in forming a team to compete at our first PennApps. We had all taken a year of computer science at Penn and felt in awe by getting the chance to code along experienced hackers who had come from all over the world just to compete.

            Our first day consisted of finding a place to code and sleep, eating lots of free food, and meeting our mentor, who was the one who really boosted our confidence and changed our entire mindset about this competition. During the first night, we spent the time drawing out how everything would look like and planning out features with our mentor. He spent some time teaching us how to get started and the basics of everything, even though he could have spent time with his own hacker team coding. Throughout our entire process, so many experienced mentors were so willing to help teach us things that it didn’t even feel like a competition. We were just a large family, with different skill sets, happy to help each other out. We had learned so much from these mentors and made long lasting friendships.

            As our deadline at PennApps approached, we stayed up all night eating Insomnia cookies with some mentors to decode bugs and finish the product. We finally got home at 7 AM with 2-3 hours of sleep before demo time. Arriving at the Palestra, we felt so proud and accomplished in having finished a product in time. Companies ended up loving our idea (FlipIt) of a virtual bulletin board for clubs to advertise events and we were in shock that companies were amazed by it! We didn’t even dream of ending up in the top 40/200 teams with our lack of experience.
            In the end, on top of new friends and a new product, we had a new confidence in ourselves. We had many doubts during our time here, from a lack of knowledge of certain coding concepts to some guys thinking that we were lost and not actual competitors. However, we realized that PennApps was not just a time to code, but it was a time where people come together to breathe life into ideas. It is one of the few places where one has the resources and people to teach you how to create something. It has a brought a new perspective to coding to my team, and we have a new excitement for life because of it. We hope to set an example for girls who are afraid to code or pursue computer science. It is a bumpy road, but we are all here to help one another and there’s a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel! 

Questions for Bianca?  contact her at awe@seas. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation: Pre-Med edition

Like many of my fellow bioengineering peers, I have explored the pre-med track for sometime now, searching for my true passions and how they would best impact the world. This summer I sought to explore further the physician’s field by shadowing several doctors at Johns Hopkins University.
I began the summer observing a primary care geriatrician, which perhaps would not entice most people as today’s young medical school students search for the most specialized and high tech fields. However, I think if you followed Dr. John Burton for one day you would realize the importance of geriatrics from a truly inspiring teacher, colleague, friend, doctor, mentor, caregiver, and innovator that has greatly changed his field throughout his career.
I learned many lessons throughout my time with Dr. Burton all of them invaluable and essential to the essence of what is a caregiver and a healer. On my first day, Dr. Burton took me on a house call, which I did not even realize doctors still did. As many of his patients do not have the agility and capability of coming in to clinic this is an essential part of care, one that the medical system sometimes does not account for. The patient we visited was a widow and had been alone for many years, sparsely seeing family and friends and barely leaving the house. Dr. Burton’s right hand woman, nurse Jane Marks, assisted Dr. Burton in all aspects of the visit.  They have worked as an inseparable team for many years now. The patient’s welfare was not only her physical well-being, correct drug dosages, or curing specific symptoms, but also her emotional and mental state. I learned that Mrs. Marks regularly took the patient grocery shopping and drove the patient to groups for the elderly. Mrs. Marks goes above and beyond, as Dr. Burton says, and she truly touches the lives of those around her, providing the care that few others provide. Dr. Burton and Mrs. Mark’s patients have become like family to them. Following them for several decades and sharing their personal lives, they not only have changed their patient’s health, they have also incited a different view of the medical system, one that makes room for those that cannot subscribe to the normal protocols and, without them, would remain forgotten.
            I also had the honor and privilege of shadowing Dr. Luca Vricella, a pediatric cardiac surgeon. Although in the same institution, this experience was an entirely different from shadowing Dr. Burton. Dr. Vricella wakes up before dawn and arrives at the hospital to check on his patients before meetings with cardiologists, pediatricians, and other specialists. They discuss their patients in John Hopkins’ brand new facility, which integrates the OR with the post-op rooms, cardiologists, and technicians. Once again, nurses, doctors, and technicians work seamlessly together to ensure the best possible care for the patient. The first surgery I attended was on a 6 month old baby boy who needed a tetralogy of Fallot repair, which means his heart has four severe defects. As I gowned up and entered the OR, I was afraid for the baby’s life and for my own emotions and responses. As Dr. Vricella made the first incision and the smell of blood reached my nose, I struggled to see the beauty and necessity in open-heart surgery. Fortunately, I did not faint and even more fortunately my feelings took an unexpected turn. As the chest opened, I began to see a small, faintly beating heart. Entranced by the heartbeat, I could not believe the beauty of the human body and soul. This trance slowly began to wear off, as I grew curious about the swift, precise, and complex movements of Dr. Vricella’s tools. He effortlessly, or so it seemed to me, placed a perfectly sized patch on the patient’s septum and proceeded to perform other complex adjustments. Before entering surgery, Dr. Vricella told me that surgery is just like an airplane flight: there is a takeoff and a landing and then the in between. The landing began as the baby was taken off heart-lung bypass. In this moment everyone in the room was quiet and the only sounds were the beeping of the complicated machines. We waited to see, would the heart be capable of beating on its own? Would the blood flow to the entire heart? Would the baby boy be ok? With only a few seconds of delay, the heart began beating again, this time with a strength and passion that I had not seen before. Once again, I was entranced by the power and capability of the human heart and the human brain.
            These experiences showed me the amazing capabilities of doctors in the medical field today. They inspired me to choose a path that will touch people’s lives not only in the present, but also in the future. I think I can speak for many that without Dr. Burton and Dr. Vricella the world would be immensely different.

Questions for Ilaria?  Contact her at