Meagan McKee ’24 stepped onto Trinity University’s campus in February 2020 for her Semmes Scholarship interview, excited and blissfully unaware that COVID-19 would lead to the school shutting down in a matter of weeks.
“It was really crazy, the timing of everything,” McKee says. “I’m so grateful to have been able to interview and meet professors and talk with different admissions counselors and students.”
McKee won the coveted scholarship, which ensured her tuition would be covered if she pursued a STEM-related major. “I was definitely nervous about applying to it,” she explains. When the interviewers asked her about the moment she knew she wanted to pursue a career in engineering, though, she instantly relaxed. “I was in a class in fourth or fifth grade, and we were making solar-powered or hydro-powered cars for a renewable energy unit. I just had such a good time trying to figure out how that little hydraulic system worked.”
Winning the scholarship plugged her into the Trinity community and connected her to the research faculty. “I am super grateful for those mentorship opportunities that I've gotten from the scholarship. I'm actually right now doing research with one of the professors that interviewed me for the scholarship.” She started working in the lab of engineering science professor Dany Munoz-Pinto, Ph.D., in her first year on campus. “My first semester on campus, I did pipette training, and then my second semester of freshman year, I started training directly on the cell culture procedures we use during our experiments.”
The Munoz-Pinto lab is developing hydrogels that simulate the nervous tissue of a diseased brain to aid with the study of Alzheimer's disease. “Basically, we put cells into these gels that have similar mechanical properties, or similar composition, to brain tissue. It's a more natural environment for the cells. We are working on fine-tuning the mechanical properties of the gels so that other researchers are able to use these instead of plastic plates for future studies.”
McKee now has her sights set on a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and credits her desire to pursue graduate school to this early lab exposure. On campus, McKee spends her spare time working as a peer tutor in the Quantitative Reasoning and Skills Center and the Writing Center and playing cello in the Trinity Symphony Orchestra. She enjoys how her creative hobbies balance the methodical side of lab work. “It's been really fun to tutor in the Writing Center because I get to help write papers that are not lab reports,” she says, laughing.
When asked about juggling extracurriculars with school work, McKee says procrastination is the enemy. “A big part of it is just keeping on top of my schedule. I do everything I can to start things as early as I can.” Her advice to prospective students wanting to pursue a demanding STEM major is to remember to reach out to professors.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It sounds simple, but it can be hard to do. I think with science and engineering majors, there's kind of a stigma against being vulnerable and asking for help. But a lot of the time, the best-performing students are the ones who are able to admit when they need a little extra support.”