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Engineering alumnae will start doctorate programs this fall

Posted on May 24, 2016

A group of women in engineering will take what they learned at Grand Valley State University to develop original research at doctorate programs across the U.S. this fall. 

The biomedical engineering graduates will conduct research that focuses on different areas of neuroengineering, a specialized discipline within biomedical engineering that seeks to understand and enhance neural systems. 

Negin Nadvar, '10 from Iran, will attend the University of Michigan; Priya Balasubramanian, '14 from India, will attend Marquette University; Lauren Hickox, '14 from Grand Rapids, will attend University of Pennsylvania; and Nadina Zweifel, '16 from Switzerland, will attend Northwestern University. 

Samhita Rhodes, associate professor of engineering, said going from a teaching school like Grand Valley to getting accepted into some of the most competitive and well-known research schools in the country is an incredible feat. 

"Getting into a reputable Ph.D. program is extremely difficult," said Rhodes. "You are competing on a global stage. The requirements are stringent and the odds are stacked against you, but these women have exceptional drive, a ferocious work ethic and remarkable talent."

Nadvar worked for Stryker as an engineer in research and development for several years before deciding to apply for doctoral programs. She said receiving a doctorate was always part of her plan, but she wanted to get industry experience first. Balasubramanian enrolled at Grand Valley when her family moved to Grand Rapids and worked for Van Andel Institute. She said the research she conducted at VAI sparked her interest in pursuing a doctorate. 

Balasubramanian said it was important to find programs that valued collaboration and impact. "I've been very spoiled at Grand Valley because of all the personal attention I've received, so that was an important criteria, too," she said. 

Zweifel will work at Northwestern's Neuroscience and Robotics Lab. She said deciding to pursue a doctorate was a big decision. "I asked myself a lot of questions before applying for programs, like 'Is this where I want to go?' and 'What do I really want to do?' Once I found the answer, I had to be very persistent in meeting people and networking," she said. 

Hickox said it's important to push for what you want. She began teaching at Grand Valley after graduating from the university with bachelor's and master's degrees. She will perform research on bone and joint biomechanics in a functional biomechanics lab at Penn.

"I was able to conduct more research while teaching, so the natural next step was to go for my Ph.D. Grand Valley was a great starting point for my research," said Hickox. 

Balasubramanian said she's excited, but nervous to start her program in the fall. 

"It really helps that I'll be experiencing this with these three women. We're going through it together and we'll be able to lean on each other for support," she said.