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The winners of the Graduate Student Service Awards for the academic year 2023-2024 have been selected! We’re excited to announce that ten students will receive recognition for their outstanding contributions. These selected students will each be awarded a $3,000 stipend from both the College of Engineering (COE) and the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME). Let’s extend our congratulations to the following recipients:

Katie Heath has consistently and tirelessly represented BME graduate students to various stakeholders across both campuses. Most notable are her leadership roles in the BME GSA and the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG). In the GPSG, she serves as Senior Vice President and presides over the student senate. She has been involved in passing legislation that has been focused on reinforcing wellness initiatives, fostering community within the graduate student population and collaborating with the Undergraduate Student Government. Within the BME GSA, she currently serves as co-president. She serves as the main communication point between graduate students and the Biomedical Engineering Faculty and Administration, such as attending all department meetings. She has organized countless events for socializing and community-building and has advocated for student needs in rebuilding a department-wide culture of cross-campus camaraderie.

Thy Le has volunteered her time to support the UNC Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program, which is dedicated to increasing STEM involvement among historically underrepresented groups. By helping to recruit and interview future scholars, as well as attending and presenting at several seminars, she has encouraged students to pursue post-graduate research endeavors in biomedical engineering. Furthermore, as a mentor for several sisters in the Alpha Kappa Delta Phi sorority, an international Asian-interest sorority, her guidance has not only helped them navigate their academic and professional careers but also assisted them through the PhD application process, encouraging them to pursue their aspirations in the biomedical engineering field.

Anna Phillips has made it her mission to promote joy through music to the BME department and university. She is known for being the first PhD student to participate in the UNC Marching Tarheels. She also plays clarinet in the UNC Symphony Band, which regularly hosts concerts on campus. Finally, she plays in Triangle Pride Band, a community group that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and raises money for charity, alongside other UNC BME members. Through her musical efforts, Anna is committed to embracing the artistic side of engineering and demonstrating that music can be a wonderful tool in maintaining health and wellness.

Gabrielle Rusch has served in a variety of roles to enhance an inclusive community in STEM. She has participated in ISPE Women in Pharma and SWE over the past several years. She has served as a mentor in the Juntos high school program at NCSU in 2023. She used her skills in microdevice fabrication while teaching design and manufacturing techniques to young Latino students interested in STEM careers. She has also served on the Graduate School Association Committee as Social Chair. Additionally, she serves as a lead coach for NC State’s SensUs competition team, empowering young engineers and STEM students to build wearable biomonitoring devices and compete internationally.

Aryssa Simpson has strived to build community within BME, notably through the creation of the Black & Latino BME Community. This group serves as a network for minority students within BME and has hosted social and outreach events over the past academic year. The community has bridged the connection of UNC and NCSU BME undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, Aryssa was elected to the Collegiate Initiative Chair for the Research Triangle Park (RTP) Chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE). This role focuses on assisting local university and community college chapters with student recruitment and retention. She was noted as a role model by one of her nominators for her passion and dedication to uplifting others.

Jacob Thompson has contributed to service broadly at NC State. He serves as the Associate Member Board President of the Comparative Medicine Institute. In this role, he represents students at the CMI Executive Committee meetings. In 2022, he also organized the Catalyze Entrepreneurship Competition. This is an event designed to provide seed funding to enable commercialization of university research. He is also the Budget Coordinator within the Scientific Research & Education Network (SciREN), which links university labs to K-12 educators.

Jair Valenzuela served as GSA co-president this year. He has helped set up and take down our weekly pre-seminar socials, begun organizing and planning a BME writing group and taken significant time to help new and current students who need help. He has represented our department as our single UNC GPSG Senator and continued our grad student announcement emails. He has also helped support other GSA members in their goals and events. He is always willing to go well beyond what is expected to create a community and support others. He is extremely dedicated as a leader and always goes above and beyond his duties.

Madelyn VanBlunk exhibited exceptional leadership and organizational skills as she spearheaded the BME GSA merchandise sale initiative over the past year. With meticulous planning and coordination, she successfully managed all aspects of the campaign, including merchandising, vendor relations and engaging members of the BME community across both campuses. Under Maddy’s guidance, the campaign saw remarkable success, with over 250 orders placed, resulting in a significant boost in departmental morale and a tangible sense of community cohesion.

Victoria Yarmey has been actively engaged in professional development activities, outreach, and teaching-focused programs. At the Juntos Summer Academy, she led workshops on fluorescence imaging and model organisms during this program geared towards Latinx High School students. She also served as a member of the planning committee for the BME Summer Camp.

Keita Yokoyama has served as the president of the Graduate Business Careers Club this past year. His work has helped life science startups and nonprofits in the region work on public health projects by assisting them in bringing their products and ideas into the market. Some examples include improving dermatology care in the global south and demonstrating devices for opioid use disorders. His group has brought in over 80 students from within and out of UNC to help develop their skills and professional development in fields such as consulting, medical writing and regulatory affairs, as well as share resources and leadership development opportunities. Keita improved the communication between the club and other entities, reformed their constitution and created open-source automation for their common workflows.

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