It was a beautiful sunny day. Campus was bustling with student life. To Grade 12 student Katrina Darcel, everything seemed right.
Accepting her offer to Western University came easily to Darcel, now a fourth-year Chemical Engineering (Biochemical and Environmental option) student.
Initially debating between engineering and science, she chose engineering for the diverse opportunities it offered. “Engineering has a lot of options for the future,” she explained. “You can make it into whatever you want it to be.”
Taking full advantage of her undergraduate education, Darcel began seeking opportunities outside the scope of many students, applying for a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) — a program that is designed to stimulate student interest in research in the natural sciences and engineering.
“Initially I wasn’t really interested in research,” she explained. “My undergraduate engineering labs exposed me to the lab lifestyle and peaked my interest in potential research opportunities.”
Through the NSERC USRA program, Darcel was offered a summer research position under the supervision of Associate Professor Lauren Flynn, who holds a joint appointment with the Faculty of Engineering (Chemical and Biochemical) and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry (Anatomy and Cell Biology).
Darcel’s first experience with Flynn was in a classroom setting, during her second-year Biochemical and Environmental Engineering course.
“Dr. Flynn’s lectures were what encouraged me to add the biochemical option to my degree,” she explained. “I found her research fascinating.”
Working alongside Professor Flynn and graduate students, Darcel is currently exploring soft tissue engineering and cell-based tissue regeneration in Flynn's lab at Western.
Research in the lab focuses on soft tissue augmentation and wound healing, therapeutic angiogenesis, and musculoskeletal regeneration.
Being a part of this cutting-edge group of researchers at the undergraduate level has opened Darcel’s eyes to a potential future in research or the biomedical engineering industry.
“The USRA program was the perfect way for me to explore research before committing to further education down the line,” said Darcel. “One thing I am sure of is that I love school and I love to learn. A future in research could help me extend these passions.”
Darcel’s passion for school lies not only in her studies, but in the strong University community and her involvement in outreach activities. She built a close group of friends through her participation in the soph orientation program and continues to take on leadership roles in multiple Western Engineering clubs.
As the 2015-16 Women in Engineering (WiE) Outreach Director, Darcel had the opportunity to manage recruitment and outreach events that encouraged young females to explore engineering.
“It is important to show the exciting opportunities engineering can offer to young women,” she explained. “The WiE club works to empower and encourage current and prospective female students in the field of engineering.”
She is excited to continue to add to her volunteer experience through her role as the 2016-17 President of the Chemical Engineering Club.
Despite her busy school and volunteer schedule, she still finds time for her hobbies, which include biking, hot yoga and painting.
“Maintaining school, outreach activities, hobbies and a social life is an important balancing act,” explained Darcel. “Making time for my interests and friends has been essential to my success so far.”