This is the first in a monthly column highlighting women leaders in the STEM field, from students to professionals in their fields. Thanks go to my Environmental intern Arcadia Lee for identifying the subject of our first Spotlight.
Veronica Gerlach Viramontes
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
My name is Veronica Gerlach Viramontes and I am 21 years old. In the fall I will be a 4th year student at Rutgers, The State University of NJ. Before attending college, I lived in Ewing, NJ for 8 years. I previously lived in St. Louis, MO and Danbury, CT, where I was born. From a young age I found myself very interested in science. By the age of 10, I decided that I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon after my father had open heart surgery for an aortic valve replacement. Even though I was told that I would probably change my mind when I was older, I still continue to have the passion and drive to become a cardiothoracic surgeon as a third year college student.
Aside from academics, I am passionate about women's rights and social justice for those experiencing poverty. To advocate for less privileged populations, I helped start a ONE campus chapter at Rutgers with a group of 5 other women. ONE is a program started by Bono and the Bill Gates Foundation to help raise public awareness about poverty in Africa and to encourage US citizens to advocate for bills that help people in African countries, particularly women who suffer more from poverty than men.
Along with being a college student, I am a spouse to an airman, who was recently deployed to the Middle-East. I have also been a mother since June of last year. I hope to prove to women that it is possible to balance having a healthy family and a successful career. I plan on graduating in 2017 and will be the first in my family to have a BS in Engineering, as well as, the first to go on to medical school.
Currently, I am completing my pre-med requirements along with majoring in Biomedical Engineering. I have decided to pursue biomedical engineering as my major because of the increasing importance of technology in the medical field which enhances many medical procedures. I hope my knowledge in engineering will not only help me to work with this technology, but also, enable me to invent a device that can be helpful to many patients. Engineering has also allowed me to understand the physics and biomechanics of the human body.
This summer, I am working with Dr. Drzweicki on modeling dynamics of the heart. Dr. Drzweicki has been in the Biomedical Engineering field for many years and has written many books and papers on the heart and circulatory system. Currently, we are working on measuring the compliance of the artery using a blood pressure cuff and a program that can read pulse oscillations of the artery. We hope to see if this can be useful in a clinical setting. Right now, the only way doctors are measuring arterial compliance (how much the artery dilates) is through ultrasound, which is expensive and usually only a procedure patients who already have atherosclerosis undergo. We are also trying to determine why arteries tend to dilate more at different transmural pressures (pressure in artery-pressure of blood pressure cuff). We believe it has to do with difference in smooth muscle tone.
I am being funded to do this through the Douglass Project's Summer Stipend program. I am very thankful for this program for all the opportunities and support they give to women in STEM. I would recommend that any woman who is interested in STEM be apart of the Douglass Project. Established in 1986, the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science & Engineering is an award-winning program that provides support and encouragement for undergraduate women pursuing degrees and careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology, with the ultimate goal of increasing the participation of Rutgers women in STEM. The Douglass Project provides women in the STEM fields with personal, professional, and leadership development opportunities and provides support systems that encourage women to recognize their abilities, attain their educational goals, and ultimately pursue careers in the STEM fields.