Alumni Articles by year
Amy McManus (B.S. 2004, M.E. 2006) began her engineering career in the wastewater industry, but thanks to a connection with another USU BE alum, she discovered a rewarding career as Regulatory Affairs Specialist with Bard Access Systems in Salt Lake City, Utah.
McManus received her bachelor’s degree in biological engineering and her master’s degree in environmental engineering. After two years working in the wastewater industry, she began applying for positions in the medical device industry. USU BE alum Matt Draper worked at Bard Access Systems, and according to McManus, he was a good network resource for her. Her undergraduate focus on biological sciences and her fellow Aggie alum helped her land a job as a Research and Development Engineer at Bard.
During her three-and-a-half years as a research and development Engineer, McManus worked on new product development as well as safety and effectiveness training. According to McManus, a fulfilling part of research and development engineering was developing useful products. “When you’ve been able to get a product to market that fulfils a market need and that the customers truly value what you’ve put out there, it shows in your sales for your company,” she said.
Three years ago, McManus began working as the company’s Regulatory Affairs Specialist, her current position. “I define regulatory affairs as the liaison between the company and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” she said. “Regulatory affairs is good at summarizing everything and basically creating a story to give to the FDA. Research and development engineering provides the basis for the story.”
According McManus, the diversity of disciplines in USU’s Biological Engineering program spurred her to choose the path of a biological engineer. “Truly it was this kind of hybrid between chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, with a strong emphasis in biological sciences,” she said. “That’s really what motivated me.”
When she’s not hard at work, the Clearfield, Utah, native enjoys participating in all manner of outdoor activities with her husband. The couple’s latest adventure is planning an “overlanding” trip. Overlanding involves setting up a vehicle for a weeklong trip and being self-sustaining in the woods or desert. They are currently planning their first overlanding adventure in Moab, Utah. McManus said that the springtime excursion “will be epic, that’s for sure.”
Candace Clark (B.S., 2012) is working on innovative food engineering as a Cheese Research Scientist with Glanbia Foods in Twin Falls, Idaho. She credits her time in the USU Biological Engineering program with exposing her to diverse experiences and preparing her to tackle the challenges of working as an engineer.
Clark works with the Cheese Research and Development Group at Glanbia. Her primary responsibilities include developing new cheese products and processes, with a focus on developing new analytical lab methods.
Shortly after Clark began working with Glanbia, the company began the design and construction of the Cheese Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art research and development facility. The Cheese Innovation Center tests equipment and processes related to cheese-making, processing, development and functionality.
The facility is comprised of a pilot plant with equipment and processes used to make commercial products; processing equipment that replicates consumer uses of cheese, like slicing and shredding; a culinary laboratory with commercial grade restaurant equipment for testing how cheese products will perform as a pizza topping or melted in a sauce; and an analytical laboratory dedicated to research of cheese functionality and characteristics. “I joined just at the perfect time to be able to help plan this building,” Clark said. “It was an awesome opportunity and really tied together a lot of the engineering processes and project management that I learned in class.”
Clark was hired by Glanbia after interacting with the company at a USU career fair. The recruiters from Glanbia originally intended to fill a mechanical engineering position, but they were impressed with Clark’s biological engineering background and her willingness to rise to a challenge. “I was able to convince them to take a chance on a biological engineering student,” Clark said. She has encouraged the company to hire other biological engineers. “We hired two [USU] biological engineers last year and had another biological engineering intern this last summer,” she said.
In her spare time, the Rigby, Idaho, native enjoys playing her violin with the Twin Falls Magic Valley Symphony. And finally, a cheese recommendation: “My favorite is our Jalapeno Habanero Pepper Jack,” she said.
Dr. Christopher Fox (B.S., 2003) began his career in the biomedical industry with a degree from USU BE. Fox holds the position of Director of Formulations with the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), a non-profit biotech organization that develops and designs diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs, located in Seattle, Wash.
As Director of Formulations, Fox works with vaccine adjuvant formulations. An adjuvant makes a vaccine more potent by boosting the body’s immune response to the vaccine. Fox’s responsibilities involve developing adjuvants and monitoring their stability. He began his work on adjuvant formulations during post-doctoral research with IDRI in 2007.
According to Fox, vaccine adjuvants are difficult to access from pharmaceutical companies due to intellectual property restrictions. One of IDRI’s goals is to act as a clearinghouse to provide adjuvants to other institutes around the world. “We’re trying to allow developing countries and other companies to access adjuvants so they can move forward their vaccine programs,” Fox said. “Modern vaccines are very dependent on effective adjuvants.”
One of his team’s greatest accomplishments has been developing safe and effective formulations that are currently in clinical trials. “These are for diseases that don’t get a lot of attention and funding,” Fox said. “We’re really filling a gap by focusing on these.” IDRI also participates in technology transfers, teaching institutes and companies in developing areas how to produce their own vaccines and adjuvants, with the goal of self-sufficiency. “We’re enabling them to make their own vaccines…for instance, if there’s a pandemic of influenza again, [developing nations] wouldn’t be reliant on rich countries to make vaccines to cover their populations. We’re proud of that too,” Fox said.
As an undergraduate biological engineering student, Fox worked in Dr. David Britt’s lab, setting up equipment and acquiring materials. His research with Dr. Britt was focused on surface modifications of biomaterials to make them more biocompatible. After graduating from USU with his bachelor’s degree, Fox earned his PhD in bioengineering from the University of Utah.
Fox is from Logan, Utah, and decided that USU’s biological engineering program was a good fit for him because of the focus on applied uses for engineering. “I felt like bioengineering was sort of the marriage between a healthcare career and a research engineering career,” Fox said. “I wanted something that was applied and could help people.”
Dawance Chea (B.S. 2011) is in the thick of his second year of medical school at The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, Penn. Chea’s path to medical school began with the encouragement and mentorship he received as an undergraduate in the USU Biological Engineering program.
While at USU, Chea worked on algae research with Department Head Dr. Ron Sims, whom he credits as a mentor. “Nothing can really prepare you for medical school,” Chea said, “but the people I was surrounded by at Utah State helped me realize what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Chea began his studies at The Commonwealth Medical College in 2013. He is interested in completing a dual residency program in either Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine or Emergency Medicine and Family Medicine. Upon completion of one of these programs, he would be proficient in both acute care and chronic care. After his expected graduation from medical school in 2017, Chea will continue his training as a resident.
According to Chea, his goal for his medical career is to improve healthcare delivery to underserved populations, especially immigrant populations. In October of 2013, Chea earned his Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Columbia University, where his research focused on nutrition education for African immigrants. Chea and his family are immigrants and have firsthand experience with the common struggles of immigrants. “We had to kind of start over, with economic hardships and such,” he said, describing his family’s immigration from France to Logan, Utah. “I’m an immigrant, and I know what immigrants face.”
“Utah State has been kind of a home away from home because of the biological engineering department and their support,” Chea said.
Eric Monson (B.S. 2010) is building his career in medical science on the foundation of his research as an undergraduate in USU’s Biological Engineering department. Monson is currently an M.D. / PhD student at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa.
Monson is currently in the PhD stage of his dual degree and is training as a computational biologist or bioinformaticist. According to Monson, bioinformaticists use computers to manage and analyze large volumes of genetic data. His research is focused on identifying a genetic basis for suicidal behavior by analyzing genetic data from thousands of individuals.
He also participates in genetic and psychiatric medical clinics as a medical student. Monson’s work in the clinical setting involves interviewing, presenting, and developing treatment plans for patients under the oversight of clinical mentors.
Monson’s interest in genetic analysis developed during his time as an undergraduate researcher at USU. He worked in the biomedical laboratory at USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, conducting research on genetic links to autism. Another research project involved an attempt copy the human genome while reducing bias. “When you’re trying to copy the genome, there are certain areas that are more readily copied than others,” Monson explained. “Usually you get an unevenly distributed copy of the genome.”
Monson and his research partner received an Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) gran for their work. “They actually ended up giving us twice as much as we requested, because they could see that it was ambitious,” he said. “We had a lot to do on it, but it was actually a great learning experience.”
For prospective medical students, Monson highly recommends a foundation in biological engineering. He credits the program’s focus on problem-solving and creative thinking with giving biological engineering students an edge when applying for medical school.
Monson hopes to graduate from the University of Iowa with his M.D. and PhD in 2017, after which he will pursue a combined residency and fellowship at an academic medical center. His goal is to continue his study of psychiatric genetics research and practice clinical work in the pediatric psychiatry field.
The Hyrum, Utah, native is a father to two children, with another on the way. He is particularly proud of his dedication to family life in the midst of his rigorous studies. “Hanging out with my family is what I enjoy the most,” Monson said.
Kirsten Sims (M.S. 2012) recently accepted a position at WesTech Engineering in Salt Lake City, Utah as a Process Engineer. Sims has been selected to participate in a one-year “rotational training program”, at WesTech, wherein she is given the opportunity to spend time training in various engineering and business units throughout WesTech Engineering in order to gain an in-depth understanding of WesTech’s products, key markets, and business model.
After graduating with a B.S. in Biology from Gonzaga University, Sims decided to pursue a higher degree in Biological Engineering at Utah State University. Her thesis research at USU was focused on optimizing the enzymatic conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into feedstock for renewable energy production. Specifically, she investigated various pretreatment strategies and kinetic models for lignocellulose degradation for use as precursors in ethanol production. Additionally, under the direction of Dr. Charles Miller, Sims worked to optimize conditions for algae degradation in high rate anaerobic treatment systems to enhance biogas production and achieve resource recovery from domestic and industrial wastewater.
During her final year as an M.S. student in Biological Engineering at USU, Sims accepted a position working part time in intellectual property for IMDS, a medical device company located in Logan, Utah. After completing her M.S., she transitioned to a full time position with IMDS as a Patent Search Specialist and Technical Advisor. Her responsibilities included conducting patent searches, drafting and prosecuting patent applications, and leading “brainstorming” sessions related to novel medical devices. Working under the advisement of patent agents and patent attorneys, Sims was inspired to expand and refine her skill set in intellectual property, and began preparations to take the “Patent Registration Exam”. Sims successfully passed the U.S. Patent Registration Exam in December of 2014, and is in the process of registering as a Patent Agent before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
After working for several years in intellectual property at IMDS, Sims decided to pursue an M.B.A. at Utah State University. During her studies in the USU MBA program, Sims worked with a team of students to develop a business plan focused on resource recovery from wastewater using algae. She and her team were selected as state finalists in the Utah Entrepreneurship Challenge business plan competition. Sims also served as the President of the USU MBA Association. After completing her MBA in 2014, Sims accepted her position as a Process Engineer at WesTech Engineering. She hopes that her diverse background (life sciences, engineering, entrepreneurship training and patent law experience) will position her to become a valuable asset to WesTech Engineering, and so far is very happy with her new position. In addition to spending time training in various units throughout WesTech, Sims is also serving as a member of the WesTech “Waste-to-Resources” steering committee, as well as a member of the “Patent Committee”.
Sims was elected to serve as one of 13 national councilors of the Institute of Biological Engineering for 2015. She previously served as the national graduate student councilor for IBE for three one-year terms. In her spare time, Sims enjoys spending time salsa dancing with her husband Nurivan and playing with her two-year old daughter Elena. She is also a martial artist (3rd degree black belt in Aikido) and an avid skier.
Logan Christenson (B.S. 2009, M.S. 2011) currently holds a position as a patent attorney with the Salt Lake City based Intellectual Property firm of Workman Nydegger, where he helps inventors, start-ups, and developed technology companies from a variety of fields obtain protection for their inventions.
Although not the typical career route taken by an engineer, Logan credits his ability to work in the patent field to the engineering-based thinking skills he learned in the Biological Engineering program: “Patent law is a strange mix because you are learning about cutting edge technology on one hand while trying to navigating a complex area of law on the other, but fortunately the engineering mindset is pretty comfortable with the need to find solutions that fit within a given set of constraints, be they legal, technological, economic, or all of the above.”
While at USU, Logan earned his M.S. while working with Dr. Ron Sims to develop a rotating algal biofilm reactor designed to produce economically harvestable biomass while treating wastewater. After graduating, he attended law school at the University of Virginia. He graduated in 2014 and moved back to Utah to begin practicing as an attorney.
As for working as a patent attorney, Logan says that “it’s a lot of fun helping engineers and scientists move their ideas from early concept stages toward getting a product ready for introduction into society and into the market.”
According to Logan, one of the greatest advantages of the Biological Engineering degree is its versatility: “I know enough biology, enough chemistry, enough process engineering, enough general mechanical engineering, and even enough electrical engineering to be able to work with almost any inventor.”
Michael Mellott (B.S. 1997) credits his time as an undergraduate in USU’s Biological Engineering department with giving him the critical thinking and creative problem solving skills that he uses as a Process Technology Development (TD) Engineer with Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Ore.
In his position as a Process TD Engineer, Mellott is responsible for the design of frames and structures for Intel’s products. Frames are the spaces that surround a chip and are used to house layered structures for manufacturing and testing. According to Mellott, these structures are integral for testing and alignment. “It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “If one layer is a different size than the rest, it won’t fit together.”
Mellott began working for Intel in 2001, after earning a PhD in chemical engineering from Texas A & M University. He started as a process engineer, making computer chips. He has worked in several positions within Intel, and has held his current position for the past two years.
While at USU, Mellott enjoyed the variety of courses offered. He particularly enjoyed taking a biosensors class that allowed students to use equipment in the field. “A lot of it was different than the normal academic course work,” Mellott said. “That was definitely a different class…it was fun in its own way.” He also worked on student research using biosensors to detect pathogens.
In his spare time, the Huxley, Iowa, native spends time with his two teenage sons. “They keep me very busy. I like to be involved in their activities,” he said.
Nicholas Hoaglin (B.S., 2006) is putting his Biological Engineering degree to use at ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston. Hoaglin works in Twin Falls, ID as the Manager of Plant Engineering for a manufacturing facility that produces French fries and specialty potato products.
Hoaglin began working with ConAgra in May 2006, directly after he graduated with his Bachelor’s degree. He was hired as a Production Team Leader and transitioned to a project engineering position. During his time as a Project Engineer, Hoaglin worked on a two-year project designing a new process for producing sweet potato French fries. “I was able to go from research and development all the way through installation, start-up, and commissioning of that system,” Hoaglin said. “It was a new venture for our company.” Hoaglin worked in Delhi, LA for a year overseeing and troubleshooting the start-up of the plant. The plant was LEED Platinum certified.
After a promotion to Manager of Plant Engineering at the company’s Warden, WA facility, Hoaglin relocated to his current position as Manager of Plant Engineering in Twin Falls. One of his major responsibilities as Manager of Plant Engineering is leading the facility’s capital investment program. Hoaglin manages capital projects ranging from $50,000 to $10,000,000, ensuring that the facility remains a viable manufacturing site. Hoaglin is responsible for roughly 120 employees. “I am a leader of a highly motivated, safety oriented team that has a high level of ownership and accountability,” he said.
While at USU, an upper division food engineering course taught by Dr. Timothy Taylor piqued Hoaglin’s interest in the food industry. Hogalin worked with Dr. Anhong Zhou as an undergraduate researcher for three years. His research focused on using biosensors to detect volatile organic compounds and bacteria. “It really helped me prepare for my job,” Hoaglin said. “It was very valuable experience.” When he’s not working, the Ogden, UT native enjoys spending time with his two children and playing his guitar.
Rob Gardner (B.S. 2006, M.S. 2008) began his path to a career in academia and research with his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biological Engineering from USU. He currently works as an Assistant Professor of Renewable Energy Systems and Sustainability for the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minn. Gardner teaches “Renewable Energy and the Environment,” an online course, to over 400 students.
While at USU, Gardner worked with Dr. Anhong Zhou to develop a microsensor with applications for water quality and heavy metal detection. He worked on his project in a laboratory setting in the microfabrication lab at the University of Utah, an “amazingly unique opportunity,” he said. “Not a lot of research programs allow students to go to other universities or industry. I was able to network and meet new people.”
After completing his master’s degree in 2008, Gardner began a PhD in chemical engineering, and subsequently postdoctoral research at Montana State University. His PhD research delved into the control and regulation of lipid accumulation in microalgae. His postdoctoral research involved phototrophic renewable energy systems and deriving useful products from atmospheric CO2 and nitrogen. Gardner’s current research at the University of Minnesota focuses on microbiology and chemical engineering applications.
According to Gardner, many of the engineering problems that scientists face, such as fuel development, pollution, and chemical remediation are multi-disciplinary. “Having a biological and an engineering background is advantageous,” he said. “The really interesting problems involve biology.”
In his spare time, the Star Valley, Wyo., native enjoys hunting and fishing in the “land of a thousand lakes.”
Libbie Linton is a 2008 BS graduate and 2010 MS graduate from the USU Biological Engineering Program. After graduation, she joined WesTech Engineering in Salt Lake City, Utah. WesTech specializes in designing equipment for liquids-solids separation in the areas of water, wastewater, and industrial processing. Libbie started at WesTech as a Research and Technical Engineer and is now the Product Leader of the Membrane Filtration group, which also has two other BE graduates as group member which include Dan Dye (PhD 2010) and Lindsay Housley (BS 2008)
Outside of WesTech, Libbie is also a musician, songwriter, and lead singer of a band called Mideau (pronounced "Mid-Oh"). Mideau recorded the debut album in 2013 and will be doing a national release in 2014. Mideau plays in Utah and through out the country - they recently played the CMJ festival showcase in New York City, and will be playing at SXSW in Austin in March. The January release 'Way with Words' EP was a top feature on Noisetrade.com, and can be downloaded for free by going to mideaumusic.
Utah Native Gerald McEwen graduated this past year with a Ph.D. In Biological Engineering, and is now working as a cell culture scientist for HyClone Cell Culture and BioProcessing, Part of Thermo Fisher Scientific, in Cache Valley.
McEwen Came to Logan from St. George, UT specifically to study biological engineering in a small-town atmosphere. Receiving both undergraduate and graduate degrees at USU, he was a senator for the Graduate Student Senate, helped with the Graduate Student Symposium several times, and worked with the Department of Biological Engineering in summer outreach programs. He also met his wife while sledding on Old Main Hill.
As a graduate student, McEwen participated in research that was always somehow related to biosensors and biosensing. Some of his favorite research explored ways of observing the impact of air quality on lung tissue health. This research gave him the opportunity to work in a cross-functional team covering several disciplines. McEwen says, "I worked with amazingly bright individuals, and I was able to share my research and graduate experience with so many people. All-in-all, the most interesting part was seeing myself transform from knowing to doing."
Dr. McEwen now works for a team that focuses on cell culture medium and applications in cell culture. Most of this work fits into the "upstream" end of the big picture, and involves delivering culture medium that is specific for clients ' particular applications. The cells in culture are then used to produce a specific bioproduct, which is purified and refined in the "downstream" process. These bioproducts are often used to make biopharmaceuticals. At times, offering insight into the downstream process is also part of the team's responsibility.
He says the best part of the job is the work environment. "I work in a hands -on environment where scientists, engineers, and management come together to tackle complex projects. The projects that we work on are different each time and I enjoy the thrill of a new challenge. Although the steps to solving problems. ('scientific method') do not change, there is new background knowledge to acquire and I come away from a project with a greater understanding and appreciation for biology and the beauty of life."
Heather Smith, a recent Biological Engineering doctoral graduate, was selected to participate in the prestigious Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship program of the National Academies, which is sponsored by the Office of Policy and Global Affairs. Smith spend 2011 working in Washington D.C. with the Space Studies Board, a department of the National Academy of Engineering within the Division of Engineering and Physical Science.
Her project was with the Committee on the Planetary Protection of Icy Bodies. Her dissertation research in the Be Department was focused on exobiology engineering, which is concerned with developing methods for discovering and characterizing life on other planets. Her major adviser was BE Department head Ronald Sims. For more information on the fellowship, visit nationalacademies.org or contact Heather Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.