Feature Stories 2024: Jacqueline Ramirez '24: On the fast track

Bioengineering student Jackie Ramirez
Feature Stories 2024: Jacqueline Ramirez '24: On the fast track
Jacqueline Ramirez '24: On the fast track

From robotics to biodegradable plastics, Jackie Ramirez is graduating early with a wealth of experience in the lab.

Jackie Ramirez '24 completed her bioengineering degree at UMass Dartmouth in just three years. In that short time, the first-generation college student also completed an internship at New Bedford Research and Robotics, conducted research on zebrafish to help companies develop eco-friendly products, and worked with a team building a robotic hand. She says UMassD put her on a fast track to success as she prepares to earn her master's degree through the accelerated BS/MS program.  

Why did you choose UMassD? 

"UMassD is one of the few schools in our region that offers bioengineering. I also felt that the school is an ideal size with a tight community, and affordable too."  

How did you become interested in bioengineering?  What do you love about it?

"Both of my parents are engineers. Growing up, I was interested in healthcare and biology, and bioengineering is a perfect mix of those things. There are so many things you can do in bioengineering.  

"If you're thinking about a healthcare career, bioengineering can be an avenue to medical school, but it doesn't have to be. For me, I realized bioengineering provides an opportunity to be in the healthcare field in ways that don't involve direct patient care. Bioengineers can develop pharmaceutical treatments, biotechnology, prosthetics, and medical devices."  

Tell us about your internship with New Bedford Research and Robotics

"New Bedford Research and Robotics is a local nonprofit organization that offers large- scale 3D printing services to companies interested in partaking in innovative ways to manufacture products. Additionally, NBRR offers industrial spaces for startups and entrepreneurs to get into the marketplace and has created curriculums for local schools.  

"The team at NBRR is still growing; due to its smaller size, the interns and I were able to participate in important meetings regarding the design plans of ongoing projects. I had an active role in designing specific components for robotics at NBRR and other 3D-printed projects. This allowed me to refine and perfect my 3D modelling skills. I also participated in their outreach programming at local schools to get kids involved in STEM."  

Jackie Ramirez and the team at New Bedford Research and Robotics
Ramirez and the team at New Bedford Research and Robotics

What's been the best part of your UMassD experience? 

"In the last year I've had the opportunity to do multiple research projects. Research has given me new skills, and it's been a great experience to work with a team and see a project come to life. 

Robotic hand 

"I am a part of a team working with Dr. Dapeng Li to build a robotic hand that will use electromyography (EMG) signals, which are signals produced by the electrical activity in the muscles, to produce movements. Currently, the team has made great progress in constructing two prototypes. This summer, I will focus on getting the hand to move and function as expected.  

"The team and I presented this project at the Universal Design Symposium, a campus-wide event focused on accessibility and innovative design solutions."  

Ramirez and the robotic hand from Dr. Dapeng Li's lab

Zebrafish and biodegradable plastics 

"For my capstone project, I was part of another team working with Paramount Planet Products (P3RD), a company that develops biodegradable products and materials.  

"P3RD's mission is to create ocean-safe and fish-friendly plastic alternatives. With the creation of any new product, there needs to be safety testing that supports all 'ocean-friendly' claims. To do this, our team began by exposing a zebrafish embryo to the test product. Then, we analyzed how the embryo's heart rate was affected.  We chose zebrafish as test subjects because zebrafish are transparent at this stage of life, making their internal functions easy to observe. And, zebrafish are genetically similar to humans, so they share similar responses to toxicity. 

"We created a computer program that uses pixel-count technology to count the heart beats of zebrafish embryos captured by video. The goal was to provide data P3RD could use to develop effective and safe biodegradable products and help keep harmful plastics out of the natural environment. 

"For my master’s degree, I will continue this research with P3RD and will potentially begin the safety testing of their product using the program my team and I developed."  

Ramirez presented her zebrafish research and competed as one of six undergraduate finalists in the Three Minute Thesis Competition in April 2024.  

What are your plans for your future? 

"With the help of my academic advisor, I enrolled in winter and summer classes so I could graduate a year early and start working in my field sooner. Next year, I will complete my master's degree through the accelerated BS/MS program. After that, I would enjoy working for a medical device company in quality control, research and development, or as an engineer."  

Any advice for future students? 

"There's so much to learn in college. Develop good habits early - I wish I had started earlier. Good habits like going to bed early, eating well, and getting into a study routine will go a long way!"

UMassD favorites: 

Professor: "Dr. Li is always available and constantly gives fantastic advice. No matter what is going on, Dr. Li never fails to brighten my day. His constant cheerful personality truly brightens the entirety of the Bioengineering Department."  

Mentor: "My early graduation wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn't for Dr. Tracie Ferreira helping me along the entire way. In addition, she was our faculty advisor for our capstone project and provided constant support for the team."  

Place to study: 5th floor of the library 

Place to eat on campus:  Library Cafe 

Memory: "I've made lifelong friends here through working in pairs in the lab and being part of a research team." 

Event: "I enjoy going to recruiting and networking events on campus. It's a great opportunity to learn what companies do, meet their employees, and make connections."