The 25-mile shuttle ride between Chapel Hill and Raleigh provides Sunita Agarwala some welcome time to rest and catch up on readings and assignments.
For many Tar Heels, that coursework spans subject matter. For Agarwala, it spans subject matter and universities.
A junior from Winston-Salem, Agarwala is biomedical engineering major in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, a collaboration between UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, the UNC School of Medicine and the College of Engineering at NC State University.
Founded in 2003, the department provides students with access to world-class resources in both health sciences and engineering. It seeks to prepare undergraduate students for careers in disciplines including health care, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Upon graduating, students earn a degree in biomedical engineering from both UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State.
Getting her bearings
Agarwala always had a passion for science and a drive to help others. She began at Carolina as a chemistry major, but during her first year of classes she wondered if there was a way to integrate applied science classes into her course of study.
She discovered biomedical engineering and immediately took the leap.
“Biomedical engineering is an incredibly diverse field, and its interdisciplinary nature drew me to the program,” said Agarwala. “I love that I can take organic chemistry and mechanical engineering courses that interface with medicine all in one degree plan.”
After completing the beginning of her sophomore year on Carolina’s campus, she began last spring by splitting her time between Tar Heel and Wolfpack territory.
At NCSU, Agarwala took “Organic Chemistry II” and “Biomedical Mechanics.” A UNC Air Force ROTC cadet, she was also able to fulfill her Air Force training requirements with NC State’s Air Force ROTC program, Det 595.
“Within the AFROTC program, every school has a slightly different way of training their cadets,” she said. “It was really cool to get to observe the different leadership styles at NCSU and bring back ideas to my own detachment at UNC.”
As she begins to plan her senior year schedule, Agarwala — who completed her EMT-Basic certification her sophomore year — has her eyes on exploring rehabilitation engineering, a field of study committed to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and developing innovative rehabilitation and assistive technologies.
Agarwala is particularly interested in the development of prosthetics and cardiopulmonary bypass technologies. At Carolina, she could choose from classes including “Biomechanics of Movement” and “Systems Neuroscience.” At NC State, “Rehabilitation Robotics” calls to her.
“I am blessed to be a part of this amazing community and to have been afforded such an excellent education. The opportunity to experience both universities’ resources and faculty expertise is invaluable,” she said.
As she looks ahead to her career, she hopes to pursue her dream job as a Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) physician serving in the U.S. Air Force. As a biomedical engineer, she plans to use her engineering background to contribute to new technologies that will advance the worlds of military medicine and air medical evacuation.
Until then, she is looking forward to enjoying her senior year in Chapel Hill — and Raleigh — with the friends, classmates, fellow cadets and professors who have made both campuses feel like home.
“This program and joint department have not only provided me with opportunities in both my professional and personal spheres but have also opened my mind to envision a future of integrating my many passions to solve world problems in a way I never before thought possible,” she said.