Meet Marissa Wechsler. She was the first student to enroll in UTSA’s undergraduate biomedical engineering program.
She’s also a member of the first UTSA undergraduate class that will receive their bachelor’s degrees in Biomedical Engineering this May.
As an undergraduate student, Wechsler obtained fundamental training and knowledge in several aspects of biomedical engineering. UTSA’s biomedical engineering curriculum requires students to take courses in various areas including biomaterials, biomechanics, tissue engineering, imaging and nanotechnology. Through these courses, students acquire a basic understanding of the broad scope of biomedical engineering but through electives can also focus on specific areas in which they are interested. Wechsler’s concentrations are in Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering.
In addition to the traditional engineering course curriculum, and throughout her undergraduate studies, Wechsler participated in research through the UTSA Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) and the Maximizing Access to Research Careers-Undergraduate Student Training for Academic Research (MARC-U*STAR) programs. These programs are designed to promote the interest among, train and increase the number of, underrepresented students who pursue careers in biomedical sciences and engineering. Wechsler acknowledges the impact the MBRS-RISE and MARC-U*STAR programs had on her training and appreciates the opportunities these programs gave her to achieve many research-related accomplishments during her undergraduate years at UTSA.
Wechsler’s undergraduate research focused on optimizing the effects of electric current on the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells into osteoblasts, the bone-forming cells. She conducted her research under the mentorship of Rena Bizios, Peter T. Flawn Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Bizios is a pioneer in both biomedical engineering teaching and research. Wechsler’s research project became her UTSA Honors College undergraduate thesis.
With academic strengths and a personal interest in mathematics and science, Wechsler credits her parents for motivating her to pursue a degree in engineering at UTSA. Until she came to UTSA, Wechsler did not know what it meant to either do research or to get a Ph.D. degree. Following graduation, she plans to continue her studies toward a Ph.D. degree and aspires to a career in academia.
In addition to acquiring research-related skills and experience, communication is one of the top attributes Wechsler says she has learned from Bizios. This skill has been reflected by her ability to gain recognition, including awards for her research which, to date, has been presented at various local, regional and national scientific conferences.
In 2014 alone, Wechsler won the Best Undergraduate Presentation Award in the area of Regenerative and Molecular Medicine at the UTSA College of Sciences Research Conference, and she was one of very few among 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students to receive a first place award for her podium presentation in the Engineering, Physics and Mathematics section at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).
Most importantly, Wechsler received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship in the spring of 2015. This prestigious award was the result of a nationwide competition and will provide complete financial support for three years of Wechsler’s graduate studies toward her doctoral degree in Biomedical Engineering.
“Being awarded this NSF fellowship is such an honor,” said Wechsler. “I cannot describe the feeling, but it is amazing to be recognized as one of the top young engineers and scientists in the country. Accepting this fellowship will definitely help me achieve my career goals.”