URI senior has passion for bettering lives

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Shrewsbury resident is standout biomedical engineering major

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 18, 2012 – Biomedical engineers are in hot demand. The federal government says that the country will need thousands more over the next decade to support a health care system entwined with technology. These engineers of tomorrow are expected to command high salaries, work for prestigious companies and stay employed.

However, for University of Rhode Island biomedical engineering student Brittany Alphonse, it’s all about improving people’s lives. “It’s exciting when you’re able to help someone because all the work you put in paid off,” she said. “You get to see their reaction and how you’ve affected their life.”

The Shrewsbury, Mass., native sees herself changing lives. With her biomedical engineering background in physics, math, biology, electronics and computing, she can apply theory to tangible benefits like designing a better prosthetic, finding new ways to treat cancer or improving drug delivery, among other possibilities.

Wherever Alphonse lands, she’ll bring a resume that stands out. Her grades rank her No. 2 in URI’s biomedical engineering program, and she is vice president of the engineering honors society Tau Beta Pi and co-president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, which she co-founded in her junior year. On top of that, she serves as a student admissions representative and is a member of the campus Outing Club and Newman Club.

“There are lots of people who make good grades, but with Brittany she’s very disciplined and she takes a lot of pride in what she does,” said electrical engineering Professor G. Faye Boudreaux-Bartels. “She’s willing to go beyond what normally needs be done.”

Every summer, Alphonse has held a competitive internship. At Worcester Polytechnic Institute, she redesigned a mold used to grow tissue-engineered blood vessels, while at Georgia Tech she created a microfluidic flow focusing device to synthesize Janus Particles, which hold promise for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Her most recent internship involved working with researchers at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography to design electronic components for an underwater robot.

“I love the creativity required,” she said. “Engineering gives you an open box to solve things differently.”

Alphonse’s love affair with science blossomed in seventh grade. She became fascinated with genetics just as a debate about stem cells raged across the country. In high school, she joined the robotics club – “sports for nerds,” she called it – and enrolled in advanced science classes. Between academics, she found time to serve as editor of the student newspaper, join the cross-country and lacrosse teams, and play in the band.

She applied to URI after learning that a family friend planned to apply. She came to visit four times, drawn by the opportunity to mix a technical education with the liberal arts. Finally, she and her parents met with Professors Boudreaux-Bartels and Ying Sun over pizza, and that sealed the deal.

“That’s when I realized I was not going to be just a number, but professors were going to know me,” Alphonse said.

Now not only do her professors know her name, but they know she’s destined to change people’s lives.

URI Marketing & Communications photo by John Peterson