Joint program student discovers love of biomedical engineering
As she approaches a spring graduation, Amber Ingram is contemplating medical school versus working as an engineer. (Photo by August Jennewein)
Ever since she was a little girl, Amber Ingram has wanted to be a doctor. She adored watching Discovery Channel programs about the human body.
“I loved the medical field growing up,” she said. “I thought it was so cool to see the technology behind it, like we can make cool thermometers to check your temperature, we can take a CAT scan using this newly developed technology. I was especially interested in helping people and figuring out cures to different diseases that hadn’t been solved already.”
When Ingram started at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, she thought she would major in biology, graduate in three years and then “kick it to med school.” Long story short: that did not happen. Which might be surprising, until you take another gander at her words and see that underneath her stated interest runs a different thread that makes her undergraduate path make sense.
A friend suggested Ingram think about the UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, and she made the leap immediately. She could still go to med school afterward, and the engineering internships were interesting and paid well. She is on track to graduate in the spring with a degree in mechanical engineering and a math minor.
“I chose it and went with it, and that’s how I was convinced,” Ingram recalled. “I was just hoping to get dope internships. I know that sounds really bad, but that was the plan. It turned out to be really cool.”
Her first was with the Washington University Summer Engineering Fellowship. Between her sophomore and junior years, she researched cancer cells in Assistant Professor Amit Pathak’s lab. Biomedical engineering turned out to be a connector between Ingram’s interests.
“I didn’t expect to be able to do that because of my degree, and I didn’t think anyone would bridge the two and let me look into the medical side,” she said. “I got to see day-to-day research, and it was a really good internship. I got to see different industries as well, and they took us on tours of major companies, and you saw what the engineers do.”
One place the group visited was the Cortex Innovation Community, a nonprofit that constructs and renovates spaces to cater to St. Louis technology startups. Impressed, Ingram thought how great it would be to work there someday.
“And then the next summer I got to,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is dope.’”
Through the Ameren Accelerator Internship program, Ingram started working for Applied Particle Technology, a startup creating a wearable device that continuously measures air quality for occupational hazards. Because of her experience using computer-aided design software, she was able to help APT with their 3D printing, and she also had the experience of developing something of her own.
“I got to make and develop something to print for it. It’s a little prototype. It’s a little dust cover. It was like this big, but I made it,” she said, holding her fingers about an inch apart. “I was happy that I got a chance to do that because it was my first self, 3D printed item. I had done it once in class, but it was more monitored. I printed five of them, and three of them were bad, but two of them made it.”
She also helped with background research and other tasks. Overall, Ingram was glad to have had the startup experience.
“Now I have an understanding of how it works from day to day. You have to be on top of everything because you’re just in charge of everything,” she said. “I had never worked for a startup, and I got to see firsthand what they go through every day. You have to put in a lot of work because you’re busy all the time.”
Being busy, however, is nothing foreign to Ingram. During the same summer, she took two classes and worked as a cashier at Walgreens. Though she was initially worried about becoming burned out midway through, Ingram soared through the summer, probably because she had some significant time management experience. As an undergraduate, Ingram has been a cashier twice, a peer mentor, a library assistant and tutored for two departments.
In her mind, the most notable was tutoring for Calculus I. In high school, Ingram had found calculus overwhelming, but everything clicked easily when she retook it at UMSL. During the second semester of her freshman year, she decided to see if she could help others get through the class.
“I had to decide, ‘Am I a good tutor?’” Ingram recalled. “I helped two of my students pass, and I was really happy. I felt like I could help somebody else do good with this because, if I did it, I could break it down for people to understand so they know it’s not that hard.”
Aside from work, Ingram has also been very involved in on-campus service. She is part of the mechanical engineering student advisory board, was the Society of Future Engineers representative for the Student Government Association and now serves as president of SOFE. Bringing in engineers from varying industries to talk about their career paths and daily duties is Ingram’s favorite aspect of SOFE, and hearing engineers talk helped her realize that large companies hire candidates with a wide range of specialties.
“I like that we are giving people a choice and exposure by bringing people to them because a lot of people can’t go off campus and go on tours,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to be in leadership roles necessarily, but I get to be a voice for my peers. If they have issues, I can bring it up to be resolved, and it’s good to be a liaison. I like being a part of something that’s helpful to other people in their careers.”
As graduation approaches, Ingram is contemplating the same decision she made during her freshman year – medical school or engineering? Working abroad as an engineer in Japan or Spain appeals to her as does experiencing what being an engineer is like at a big company like Boeing. Regardless of what choice she makes this time, some aspects of Ingram will remain the same:
“I like to help people,” she explained. “I’m happy I’m a senior, and maybe I’ll go to med school.”