News Column

Lely graduate's dual enrollment at FGCU gives her head start into bioengineering career

May 23, 2014

By Jessica Lipscomb, Naples Daily News, Fla.



May 23--Editor's note: This is the another in a series of profiles highlighting members of the Class of 2014 at area high schools.

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Burns is quick to point out that almost no one calls her that -- she prefers to go by Sam.

"I'm an engineer, I like efficiency," she jokes.

Sam, a bioengineering enthusiast, has spent the past two years in a molecular biology lab alongside researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University on an antioxidant gene study. Burns began attending FGCU as a dual-enrollment student starting her junior year at Lely High School.

"It's been exciting being able to have a foot in both Lely and a foot in FGCU because I've been able to represent Lely at a lot of FGCU events," she said.

While not involved in daily life at Lely for the past two years, Sam was able to serve as a co-captain for the school's mock trial and moot court program, leading Lely to place as the top Collier County school this year. She was recently awarded as Best Witness for the Defense and Best Attorney for the Prosecution in the school district.

"I really loved Lely," Sam said. "You definitely feel like there's this family culture there, and I feel like kids are encouraged to pursue their own paths."

Sharon Murray, the coach for the mock trial team at Lely, called Sam an outstanding member of the team.

"She is so articulate when she speaks and projects the knowledge that she has so that people listening to her really pay attention to her. She commands an audience really well," Murray said.

Sam, who moved to Florida from Pennsylvania before the sixth grade, will leave Naples this fall for the University of Pennsylvania. She will be part of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology to pursue degrees in economics and engineering.

"What I'm very passionate about and what I want to pursue after college is biotech entrepreneurship," she said. "I'm very interested in the combination of biology and technology research and applying it to how we create businesses from these ideas."

In middle school, Sam practiced ballet but was forced to wear a back brace for a period of time that made it difficult to move her body into the positions. The brace made her think about the human body in new ways and triggered her interest in bioengineering.

"I guess I always had a fascination with how you take the body as a machine and actually fix it and make it better," Sam said. "I think that's what makes bioengineering the coolest of all the engineering disciplines, because you're actually working with living systems."

Sam said working in the lab at FGCU gave her invaluable experience but also left her wondering how her research could be applied.

"There's so many interesting things going on in the academic realm, but if you're just focused on getting results, publishing them, getting more results, publishing them in a journal, then you're not seeing, 'Well, how can this actually impact people and how can we take a step back, turn this into a product and actually have an impact on the people around us?'" she said. "I think entrepreneurship is a cool way to do just that."

Growing up with an autistic older brother, Sam said she's also drawn to disability theory and using engineering to create technologies that can improve quality of life.

"I don't read the definition of autism and see my brother. It's so much more complex and nuanced than that," she said. "So what I think is interesting about engineering is you don't look toward an instruction manual, and you don't say, 'This is what the case is going to be and this is how we fix it.' You're always given new problems and you have to look at it with a new lens."

Sam said the program at the University of Pennsylvania will allow her to begin coursework for a master's degree in nanotechnology or biotechnology while still enrolled in undergraduate programs. After that, she is thinking about pursuing a Ph.D.

Murray, the mock trial coach, said she's sure a student like Sam will go far.

"We will hear about her, you know?" Murray said. "I just expect that she's the kind of person that's going to end up finding something new in the area of medicine that will help people get better quicker or something like that. She's that good."

___

(c)2014 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.)

Visit the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) at www.naplesnews.com

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Source: Naples Daily News (FL)


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