Feature Stories

She Has Four Scholarships and a Bright Future: Meet Celebration Speaker Kathleen Uske

Kathleen Uske, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, will speak during Celebration.

Each year, the university picks a student to speak during its annual benefit dinner, Celebration. This year’s student speaker is Kathleen Uske, a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

Kathleen has a stellar record of academic accomplishments. She also has four scholarships – a financial aid package that has freed her, and her parents, from financial woes. The scholarships have also given her the luxury of focusing on and excelling in her studies.

In this interview, Kathleen talks about her background, her studies, her projects and how it is that NJIT donors, who will gather at Celebration, have given her the gift of a bright future. 

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Can you talk about your background?

I was born and raised in Staten Island and both my mother and father came from families of meager means. My father tended bar and worked at a gas station to put himself through both pharmacy and podiatry school; my mother also worked hard to put herself through nursing school. In doing so, my parents, especially my father, took on the burden of student loans and thereby, financial hardships for years to come. My parents later continued to work hard to put myself and my three elder brothers through private schools. Realizing the sacrifices they made to pay costly school tuitions, I felt obligated from a young age to work hard in school not only for myself but for my parents as well.

Why did you major in biomedical engineering?

My interest in the medical field emerged when I was 8 years old. At this age, my father had quadruple cardiac by-pass surgery.  My father’s surgery was unexpected, shocking, and introduced emotional hardships as well as additional financial hardships on my family. This sparked my interest in the medical field. The idea of having the opportunity to do work similar to that of the doctors and surgeons that had saved my dad’s life could not be matched. I felt that biomedical engineering would be an interesting and challenging route to link both my love for the medical field with my interest in technology.

But you don’t plan to attend medical school now, right?

Right. After taking a tissue engineering class in my major, I found a new way to help people recover and get better.  I found that I could design and make the tools and materials that doctors use to heal people. I love what is called regenerative medicine and recently I began a stem cell research project with Professor Treena Arinzeh.  She is using stem cells to engineer tissue and to create artificial cartilage.  I am fascinated with the field of tissue engineering and I now hope to attain a PhD. and pursue a career in regenerative medicine.

How have your four scholarships helped you?

The scholarships provide my family with financial relief. Not having to pay a huge bill each semester is a stress-reliever for me and for my parents, who are currently paying for my brother’s college educations. Additionally, as an out-of-state student, the cost of tuition and living on campus would be unaffordable. Having housing scholarships allows me to experience the best of both worlds, so to speak. I reside on campus during the week and go back home on weekends. Living at school allows me to be involved on campus. I am an Albert Dorman Honors College student ambassador and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society. Last fall, I served as a teaching assistant for the Honors Freshman Seminar class. I am the Vice President of Public Relations and the Vice President of Membership for Delta Epsilon Iota Academic Honor Society and a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.   

You are also part of a design team that is doing an important project.  Can you discuss that?

I participate in the Dorman Honors College’s Interdisciplinary Design Studio program. The IDS program is aimed at teaching students how to become innovative entrepreneurs by developing: business, marketing and financial plans to sell our projects.  I belong to a team that is developing a so called SmartGuardian, a device that can monitor elderly people and help to live safely in their homes. The potential societal impact of the SmartGuardian project has already been recognized. For instance, I will be the student speaker at upcoming TEDxNJIT, and our project will be presented at a Healthcare Innovation Conference in Houston. The IDS program has transformed my NJIT experience.

What will you say to the donors when you speak at the Celebration dinner?

I’ll say this: For generations, your generosity has allowed talented young students to pursue their passions and have the opportunity to transform visions into reality. For now, I will work hard and take my NJIT experiences to future internships and jobs. I can only hope that one day I am successful so that I can give back to provide students with the financial assistance that will allow them to excel. I thank all the donors for their selflessness and ultimately for giving me the opportunity to follow my dreams.

By Robert Florida