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Society of Women Engineers

SWE’s International Ambassador in Belgium Looks Back at Her Career with SWE

I became a SWE Ambassador because I believe SWE can provide value globally and that its mission should not be limited by geographic or political boundaries.

Published On: June 2017

Research Group of Jennifer Patterson (March 2017, in front of the Arenberg Castle on the engineering campus of the KU Leuven): Front row: Dr. Jennifer Patterson, Dr. Susanna Piluso, Laurien Van den Broeck, Jasper Timmerman, Dr. Soultan Al Halifa; Back row: Rory Gibney, Burak Toprakhisar, Christian Garcia, Laurens Rutgeerts, Ricardo Augusto, Abhijith Kudva

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.

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