Congratulations to biomedical engineering graduate student, Travis Seamons, who is this year’s recipient of the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Graduating Student Leader Award. As the award winner, Seamons, who will receive combined bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering, is invited to give the student address at the college’s convocation ceremony in the Jon Huntsman Center May 6.

We asked him questions about his experience at the U and for a preview of what he will say to this year’s graduating class.

Why did you do your graduate work at the University of Utah?

I fell in love with my research. I started working in Dr. Tara Deans’ lab during my first year of college and felt passionate about the work ever since. I’ve always had outstanding opportunities to grow, so I decided to stay.

What was your research about, and how did your advisor help you in your research and schooling?

Cells have been performing complex functions for millennia — they respond to their environment, create complex products, and regenerate. Synthetic biologists use the existing mechanisms of cells to engineer new functions — sensing disease, delivering drugs, and treating cancer.

Our goal is to develop new genetic parts for engineering bacteria. Current methods of engineering bacteria are limited — there just aren’t many “tools” in the “toolbox” of bacterial synthetic biology. We are expanding the toolbox by testing new genetic parts in bacteria and investigating potential medical applications. So far, we have demonstrated improved tools to tightly turn off gene expression in bacteria or greatly amplify expression.

My mentor is Dr. Tara Deans. I’ve worked in her lab for applied synthetic biology for almost four years, and she has been instrumental in my journey. She consistently gives me opportunities to grow as a researcher. Since joining her lab, I’ve trained four new students and published a paper in Nature Communications. I currently lead a team of students in my research project. We’ve become a small family as we stay late to perform experiments and celebrate successes together.

What would you like to do after you graduate??

I plan to attend an MD/Ph.D. program and become a physician scientist. I’m sure my interests will evolve, but I currently hope to study autoimmune diseases. I believe better understanding of autoimmunity will reveal new ways we can engineer the immune system to fight disease.

How did you become interested in biomedical engineering?

When I was in sixth grade, my school offered a program to shadow a professional for a day. I really wanted to shadow a scientist who worked with cells. One of my dad’s coworkers had a son who was studying biomedical engineering at the U. This led to me spending the evening in a biomedical engineering student’s lab looking at cells and learning about tissue engineering. I was instantly hooked. I thought this type of research only existed on TV. Since then, studying biomedical engineering has always felt right.

How would you describe your experience going to the U? How much did it help you in your plans for the next phase of your life?

The U has exposed me to a wide array of people and ideas, both scientific and cultural. I’ve had the opportunity to engage in world-class research and publish papers, I’ve learned about engineering from industry leaders, and I’ve learned people are beautiful and diverse. The U is the first place I saw rainbows and celebration of the LBGTQIA+ community. It helped me feel safe to accept a part of myself I was once ashamed of.

As I look to the future, I’m excited to apply my training to new research questions and clinical medicine. I love interacting with people and witnessing more of what it means to be human.

What would you like to say to the graduating class?

Earning a college degree has always been an achievement to celebrate. Today it means more than it has ever before. Not only have we all earned a college degree, we’ve also adapted to online learning, a pandemic, natural disasters, political turmoil, and a challenging economy. Not only have we lived through unprecedented challenges, we earned a degree. We’re incredible!

The topic of my speech will be “I Design My Own Future.” I want us (the graduating class) to feel proud of our accomplishments and validated in pursuing our individual definitions of success.