My name is Jennifer Patterson, a SWE International Ambassador in Belgium, and I have been a SWE member for more than 20 years. My involvement with the Society has changed organically as I moved forward in my career.
My path to biomedical engineering was somewhat twisted. After a bad experience dissecting a worm in a high school biology class, I decided that I wanted nothing more to do with the field. Around the same time, I attended a summer program at the University of Notre Dame to encourage women to pursue engineering careers. As a result, I entered Princeton University to pursue a bachelor in chemical engineering. Within a few weeks of arriving at Princeton, I got involved with SWE, eventually serving as activities chair, secretary, vice president, and president of the chapter there.
After my second year, I participated in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program at MIT in the laboratory of Prof. Jonathan King, interestingly enough in the Biology Department studying protein structure. I became more interested in biochemistry and decided to do my senior thesis in the laboratory of Prof. Michael Hecht, where I determined the morphology of a library of novel proteins using TEM. Next, I worked in a start-up company called Therics that was developing 3D printing technologies for tissue engineering.
By this point I decided that I wanted an academic career, so I went to the University of Washington for a PhD in bioengineering, which was supported by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, working with Prof. Patrick Stayton on hyaluronic acid hydrogels for bone tissue engineering. Again, SWE played an important role, and I served as outreach coordinator for the UW chapter for several years. During my studies, I read papers by Prof. Jeffrey Hubbell that described modular PEG-peptide hydrogels and decided that I wanted to work with them so I obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the Whitaker International Program to go to the Hubbell lab at EPFL in Switzerland.
About this same time, SWE started to expand its international presence, and I moved through several leadership positions, including international member coordinator and international senator. In 2011, I started as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Materials Engineering at KU Leuven in Belgium to develop a research line on materials-biology interface science. My research group has grown to comprise 2 postdocs, 6 PhD students, and 2 master students (photo). In addition, I have developed master-level courses on the host response and ‘next generation’ biomaterials. Here also there was a link to SWE, as I became a member of the Women in Academia Committee, serving as chair in 2014-2015. In 2016 I went up for tenure but it was not granted, so I am currently looking for a new position.
I remain active in SWE as a member of the Women in Academia Committee and as a SWE International Ambassador. I decided to become a SWE Ambassador because I believe that SWE can provide value globally and that its mission should not be limited by geographic or political boundaries.