Aruna Venkatesan: Making the Most Out of Engineering

While many students at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering say designing theoretical research projects highlights their undergraduate experience, biomedical junior Aruna Venkatesan says she is most excited by learning more about how engineering can improve the quality of life of others.

This appreciation for engineers’ applicability probably stems from her
own experience with the uses of biomedical engineering. In middle
school, Venkatesan, who is from Pleasanton, Calif., was diagnosed with
scoliosis -- an irregular curvature of the spine. She was told that she had
the option of undergoing painful surgery or wearing an awkward back
brace that she feared would bring unwelcomed attention from her
classmates. After discussing her concerns with her physician and
parents, they discovered a new brace that Venkatesan could wear while
she slept.

This passion for applying engineering, however, has not dimmed her
appreciation of research. In fact, research has been an integral part of her
academic experience in high school and college. In high school, she
participated in the Clorox Company's research internship program and
next year, she will work in Biomedical Professor and Chair Morton
Friedman's lab conducting vascular tissue analysis.

Venkatesan, who aspires to become a physician, says she hopes that her
experience and skills in research and development will make her the type
of doctor who helped her.

"I never thought I'd get a BME degree and go to work for an engineering
firm," she said. "I just get frustrated on working on projects that are too
abstract. Â… I really want to do things that help others."

The 20-year-old already is helping others. She is a member of Kiran, a
volunteer organization dedicated to helping female Southeast Asian
immigrants who are having trouble living in the United States.
Venkatesan, who is concentrating on issues related to domestic violence,
began her first year at Duke as a volunteer coordinator for the organization
and has risen through the ranks as a counselor and recently was
appointed a member of its board of directors.

Despite the constraints of a heavy academic load and volunteer
commitments, she still finds time to pursue her other passions, including
membership in Duke's African Dance Repertory Group. Venkatesan,
whose parents were born in India, had practiced Indian dance since she
was a child, but during her freshman year a friend suggested she give
African Dance a try, and she's been dancing ever since.

"It was one of the most challenging classes I have taken at Duke, and
honestly it continues to be a challenge," she said. "It would be amazing to
dance professionally, but I'm not that good."

This summer, she will study Shakespeare, history or law at Oxford
University in England. She is also co-senior editor for DukEngineer, the
annual student publication of the Pratt School of Engineering.