Student Leader Jesse Longoria Finds Broad Use for Engineers' Problem-Solving Skill

Jesse LongoriaBiomedical engineer Jesse Longoria chose Duke because he saw it as a place offering “the freedom to find a path all your own.” The graduating senior has certainly made the most of that opportunity, serving as the first engineer ever elected to the position of student body president, while engaging as a biomedical engineer in courses and independent study to develop, for one, a technique for detecting inflammation in people with diabetes.

“Duke provides you the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone–— to have a breadth of experiences that shape the person you are once you leave campus,” Longoria said.

His pursuit of new challenges has led him on a career path even he could not have anticipated at the outset of his undergraduate education. Longoria intended “from day one” to pursue medical school, but said he is now on track to enroll in law school.

“I’m interested particularly in intellectual property and patent law,” topics he said he was first introduced to in the capstone design course BME 227: Design in Biotechnology. “I’m really interested in the notion of protecting people’s ideas – especially in the biomedical engineering arena, where new inventions are made every day.”

As a kid in Memphis, Tenn., Longoria was first exposed to engineering by his father, himself an electrical engineer. He grew up building circuit boards and was always geared toward science and math.

His interest in medicine led him to the BME department at Duke, a college he said he first set his sights on as a fourth-grader because of its “well-rounded nature,” encapsulating a healthy balance of academics and athletics. In fact, Longoria was so sure about Duke that he applied as an early decision candidate, and enrolled in 2002.

After serving as president of the student body in high school, Longoria also enlisted early in student government once at Duke, working his way up from president of his dorm freshman year to president of the student body as a senior. As a sophomore he held the title of class president, followed by vice president of athletics and campus services as a junior.

His leadership experience has required him to work with senior administration to affect change in all areas of campus life. As an engineer, he said he has worked to bridge the gap between students at Duke’s Pratt School and undergraduates enrolled in Duke’s Trinity College. He played an instrumental role in numerous other projects designed to make college life easier, he said, pointing to the installation of new computers in the Bryan Center as one example.

As president, he also serves as a student representative on the Duke University Board of Trustees.

“It’s been a really interesting opportunity,” Longoria said of his experience on standing committees, considering issues ranging from budgets to facilities. “You sit in the board room with high profile members not only of the university, but of the nation.

“I represent my peers while considering what’s best for the university. It’s really shaped the person that I am now. I’ve had to build communication skills and an understanding of what I represent--why I believe what I do and the ability to stand firm and defend what I believe.”

He credits much of his strength in the leadership role to his engineering background.

“I’m the first ever engineer to be president of student government,” he noted. “But it’s all identifying and trying to solve problems. Being an engineer has really helped.”

Longoria also sought out opportunities to get hands-on experience in biomedical engineering. In an independent study with BME professor William Reichert, for example, Longoria worked to develop computer-assisted methods to identify and quantify inflammation surrounding sensors implanted in patients with diabetes to monitor blood sugar levels.

But it’s his latest invention that Longoria said he’s most excited about. He along with student team members in BME 260: Devices for People with Disabilities are devising a custom device for a jazz pianist who lost the ability to manipulate piano pedals after losing portions of both legs.

The lack of ankle motion in his prosthetic limbs left him unable to operate the pedals, Longoria said. Their design takes advantage of residual motion in the client’s thighs to operate a lever system. His team expects to have a final device by the end of the semester, and looks forward to hearing their client play.

“It’s not about the grade,” Longoria said. “It’s about restoring a person’s ability to do what he loves doing.”