Barrington resident to graduate URI as top biomedical engineering student

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Dance team captain headed to graduate school

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 8, 2008 – Barrington resident Alison O’Malley wasn’t entirely sure what biomedical engineering was before she decided to study it at the University of Rhode Island, but she made a good choice.

She will graduate from URI on May 18 as the top biomedical engineering student on campus and will also graduate with a degree in electrical engineering as well. O’Malley earned the prestigious President’s Award for Student Excellence for her academic success in the field of biomedical engineering at URI.

“I knew that math was my forte, and I wanted to help people any way that I could,” she explained. “And when someone from URI mentioned biomedical engineering in one of my high school classes, it sparked my interest.”

She gained her first experience in both biomedical and electrical engineering as a summer intern working to design and develop assistive devices to help quadriplegic patients control their environment, from turning on and off the lights to operating the television, nurse call button and other appliances.

“I met with patients individually to learn about their abilities so I could personalize the device to their needs,” O’Malley said. “If a patient couldn’t move their thumb, I would design it for use by their pointer finger. If they’re paralyzed below the neck, I used an airflow device that they can operate with their mouth. It was a great experience to see how electrical and biomedical engineering can help people.”

Last summer the URI student worked in the Ship and Torpedo Electronics Department at Raytheon in Portsmouth where she provided engineering support to the technical and project management teams. She received secret clearance to work on classified projects, and she earned Six Sigma certification after having identified a process that could be improved and which ultimately saved the company thousands of dollars.

A member of several honor societies and the recipient of four scholarships, O’Malley served as a student ambassador for the URI College of Engineering and was captain of the Ramettes, the University’s varsity dance team that performed at every home basketball game and at other URI events.

“I’ve been dancing at Rosemary’s School of Dance Education in Warren since I was four years old – ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop – and I tried out for the URI team as a freshman and made it,” she said. “The best part of the Ramettes was getting to work closely and develop friendships with the team members. And being the captain helped me work on my leadership qualities. Mixing dance with engineering was sometimes quite the handful.”

With graduation fast approaching, O’Malley is looking forward to attending graduate school at Boston University in the fall to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on signal processing.

“Signal processing is the foundation for a lot of the projects I worked on as an undergraduate,” she said. “All the courses I took were really interesting, the professors were phenomenal, and I didn’t mind putting in the hours to study it. I feel really comfortable working in that discipline.”

After grad school, she sees herself in an engineering project management role, perhaps back at Raytheon or maybe even at a start-up company.

“A lot of engineers need someone to drive them forward and be the leader, and that’s something I have a passion for.”