June 16, 2006
Vol. 36, Issue 11
Back Issues
Fireworks: The start of a new Reunions traditon
U.Va.'s 'Grand Experiment' begins
Thinking of becoming a doctor?
Research yields effective therapy for battling cocaine addiction
Faculty actions
Letting students lead
Curry students present ideas for closing the minority achievement gap
Engineering wins innovation grant
Don Jones retires
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind discusses 'improvising' in the war on terror
Upstart Americans establish international credentials through the 'Style of Power' at the U.Va. Library
IM-Rec keeps U.Va. fit


So many activities. So little time. What’s a student to do?

By Charlotte Crystal

Lucia del Carmen Molina, a third-year student majoring in biomedical engineering, was blown away by the student life opportunities when she arrived at the University of Virginia.

Her first year on Grounds, Molina participated in the University Dance Club. Then she joined the University Salsa Club.

“I wanted to get involved with the Latino Students Union,” said Molina, a native of Guatemala whose family now lives in Fairfax. “Last year I was on their executive board. I’m also active with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. I was treasurer last year. I’m president this year.”

She also worked with the Office of the Dean of Students as a peer mentor for first-year Hispanic students. This year she had five mentees, all students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  “I like that I’m able to tell them what mistakes I’ve made so they can avoid them. I help them with their work. I’d like to lead them into biomedical engineering and into social activities to meet others like themselves.”

Molina lives in Casa Bolivar, the Spanish language dorm, and participates in a number of social and cultural activities there. And as the president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineering, she is a member of Alianzia, a student organization comprised of the heads of U.Va.’s Latino organizations that serves as the voice of the Latino community here.

But amid this flurry of activity, time management became an issue. So did academics.

After deciding to major in biomedical engineering, Molina realized that she lacked a strong background in biology. “Jumping into that was hard,” she said. “I reviewed my high school biology, but I didn’t take AP biology in high school. To go in a different direction takes a lot of extra work. But you can push through. It takes a lot of teamwork.”

Later, she wanted to share her hard-earned knowledge with other students, so she created a student handbook of survival tips for students with a minimal background in science, especially biology, to ease their transition into a major in biomedical engineering. And she’s helping faculty plan some one-credit, pre-biomedical engineering courses, which will probably launch in the fall, for the same purpose.

One of Molina’s most transformational experiences while a U.Va. student was participating in  the engineering school’s Science and Technology Policy Internship Program in Washington, D.C., directed by Ed Russell, associate professor of Science, Technology and Society.

The summer internship provides posts in public policy, primarily in federal agencies, for engineering students interested in understanding how science policy is made. Molina worked for the National Institutes of Health in the Office of the Director. She planned a conference for researchers who had received a Bioengineering Research Partnership Grant and introduced Thomas Skalak, chairman of U.Va.’s department of biomedical engineering, at the conference. And that was only part of her job.

“I learned about the federal appropriations process,” Molina said. “I did research and learned about writing up justifications for Congress. I attended lectures at the NIH and talked to NIH officials.”

The internship led her to envision an alternative career path.

“Before the internship, I thought that I would go into research, working with cells, tissues, and maybe making reparative skin,” Molina said. “I now know that it’s important to have people who know about engineering as well as policy. Policymaking seems like a big process happening really far away. But sometimes it comes down to one lady in an office trying to come up with an idea or wording about an issue.”

Though her internship, academic studies and many other activities at U.Va., Molina has learned to better manage her time.

“The most important lesson I’ve learned here is to make sure you know what you want to get out of an experience,” she said. “You should not just be running around all the time but spending your time on things that will make a difference.”


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