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