Testing stem cells responsible for renewal and growth of lung tissue. Designing a computer model that detects blood flow obstruction. Studying the effects of encapsulated transplanted cells to prevent an immune response. These are just some of the varied honors thesis projects of five graduating seniors who participated in the Honors in Engineering Program at the University of Utah.

The honors program is voluntary, providing a unique challenge for top undergraduate students by offering them advanced levels of coursework and research opportunities. Students in the program must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.5, complete a certain amount of honors coursework, participate in at least two service or leadership opportunities, and finish an honors thesis involving research.

The following seniors graduated this year with “Honors in Engineering”:

Brett Burton

Brett Burton, B.S. in bioengineering, 2008. His honors thesis involved using 3-D computer modeling software to mimic heart conditions so that the electrical response of heart attacks can be tested.

Brett plans to come back to the U in the fall to study for his Ph.D. He will continue his research by comparing heart models with actual results to see whether the models accurately predict heart conditions. His goal is to eventually be able to use the information to provide early detection of heart problems before they become fatal.

During his senior year, Brett also worked as vice president of students for the Biomedical Engineering Club – a local chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society and Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. His responsibilities included rewriting the constitution for the local club, working on obtaining donations from local businesses and networking with professors. This past academic year, Brett helped increase membership from 30 to over 200.

Dylan McCreedy

Dylan McCreedy, B.S. in bioengineering, 2008. For his honors thesis project, he examined the utility of various cell transplants for delivering therapeutic molecules to diseased or damaged brain tissue. He also investigated the effects of the foreign body response to implanted membranes on diffusion in brain tissue.

Dylan plans to go to back to school this fall at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, to pursue a Ph.D. in Bioengineering. He plans to study central nervous system tissue repair, specifically with spinal cord injuries. He says studying bioengineering provides him the opportunity to pursue his interest in science and apply it to something that can help people.

In addition to his studies, Dylan was active in Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society), serving as co-chair of the mentoring program. He volunteered to teach science to underrepresented elementary students. He also developed a youth public art tour in Salt Lake City.

Serena Pearce

Serena Pearce, B.S. in bioengineering, 2008. Her honors thesis project involved analyzing the structure and composition of normal sciatic nerves and comparing those with ones implanted with an electrode array, a device used to stimulate or record neurons in the central nervous system.

Serena has been accepted this fall to the orthopedic biomechanics program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Having previously suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, Serena became interested in studying orthopedics. Once she graduates with a PhD, she plans to do research in her field.

As an undergraduate Serena was a service-learning scholar, having completed over 500 hours of service through the U’s Lowell Bennion Community Service Center. Serena has been a member of the Society of Women Engineers, serving at various times as president, vice president, treasurer and activities’ chair. She was also a member of the Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society) student advisory committee.

Katie Trieu

Katie Trieu, B.S. in chemical engineering, 2008. For her honors thesis project, Katie compiled research on carbon dioxide sequestration. Her works seeks to tie together the research as the basis of her thesis.

Katie is interested in field of energy and policy. This summer she has accepted a job in technical sales at Exxon Mobil in the finished lubricants sector. She eventually hopes to go back to school – potentially law school to study policy advising.

One of her service projects as an undergraduate involved helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This past academic year, Katie was president of Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society). She also worked at the student paper as a production and art director.

Nancy Vu

Nancy Vu,  B.S. in bioengineering, 2008. Her honors thesis project involved research for the past three years at Huntsman Cancer Institute, where she studied and identified adult stem cells that are responsible for renewal and growth of human lung tissue.

This summer, Nancy will go to India for an international internship focusing on HIV/AIDs prevention awareness. She plans to go to medical school at the U in the fall.

This past academic year, Nancy was vice president of Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society), working on initiation ceremonies and overseeing the mentoring, tutoring, and alumni committees. She was also involved in doing clinical research at the U’s Center for Pediatric Nutrition and Research. Last summer she was an intern for the engineering college’s HI-GEAR program (a camp for girls who are interested in engineering and computer science). Nancy’s passions are research and playing the violin.