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Bioengineering Junior Named 2013 Barry Goldwater Scholar

By Matthew Chin | April 23, 2013

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Shannon Wongvibulsin

Flip through issues of Total Wellness and you’ll be impressed. Impressed by the breadth of topics that explore new trends in nutrition, fitness, and leading a healthy lifestyle. And impressed by its polished content and clean design.

At the helm of the student-run publication is UCLA bioengineering junior Shannon Wongvibulsin, who leads with a staff of 50 students. Published by the not-for-profit UCLA Student Wellness Commission, 1,000 copies of every issue of Total Wellness  are distributed throughout the campus several times a year.
Wongvibulsin has been a part of the publication since her freshman year at UCLA. First as a writer, then as director, and this school year as both its director and editor-in-chief.  She’s aiming to increase its visibility with more print copies and a more dynamic website making it a go-to source for information on working toward a healthy lifestyle. Electronic versions are available here.

While Total Wellness is perhaps her most visible activity, it’s just one part of a very productive and ambitious schedule here at UCLA. Wongvibulsin’s top marks in the classroom and early accomplishments in the laboratory have earned her several campus honors. 

totalwellness covers-300pxShe is also a Howard Hughes Undergraduate Research Scholar, part of the UCLA Undergraduate Research Scholars Program and minoring in biomedical research. And following graduation, she’s aiming to enroll in a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program. And a few weeks ago, Wongvibulsin received one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for undergraduates who are studying mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering — a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

“Shannon is a wonderfully deserving awardee based on her outstanding academic performance against a very competitive peer group, and her sustained research excellence as evident by one first-author paper and a second on the way,” said Benjamin Wu, professor and chair of the Bioengineering Department and faculty supervisor of her undergraduate research. “Her goal to obtain M.D.-Ph.D. to address the grand challenges of her generation, and her proven leadership potential prepares her well for making significant impact in bioengineering and beyond.”

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example of a 3-D printed mold

Wongvibulsin’s research at Wu’s lab involves developing 3-D printing techniques to create molds for tissue engineering purposes, such as bone and cartilage repair. The key challenge is that as bone and cartilage tissues differ, they need different architectures for growth.

“What I enjoy most about my research is the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology and interact with some of the leading researchers in the field,” she said. “Additionally, it's an incredible feeling to know that I'm working on something that no one has before.”

She has already worked with sugar as material to build the scaffold molds. Now she’s working with a hybrid material of chitosan-alginate, which holds promise for bone and cartilage growth. 

“With my undergraduate research, I've already begun to develop an understanding of human physiology and patient needs and combine this knowledge with biomedical engineering tools,” she said. “With continued training in both research and medical school, I am passionate about making significant contributions to both the scientific and medical communities”

Even with a full load of classes, research, and work on Total Wellness, she still finds time to volunteer at the UCLA Medical Center on some mornings, tutor for bioengineering classes, and end her day with open gymnastics at the Wooden Center’s Yates Gym.

For incoming UCLA students, Wongvibulsin advises  “Don't just go through the motions. College is the time to explore, discover your interests, and find out what you are passionate about. UCLA offers an unlimited number of resources. Take advantage of this!”

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photos by HauChee Chong