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BME Student Heading To Harvard

Sajal Swaroop will graduate in May with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Materials Science & Engineering. Sajal, who has maintained a 3.85 GPA despite a grueling 18-21/semester credit course load over his four years at UConn — paired with numerous activities — will commence studies in the prestigious Harvard University School of Dental Medicine in August. He was invited for interviews by all 10 dental programs to which he applied but chose Harvard because of its reputation, networking opportunities and residency placement.

Sajal’s path to Harvard began in 2004 when he first emigrated from India. Residents of the Bihar state of India, the Swaroop family had long planned to move, and as Sajal neared completion of his high school diploma, the family’s green cards were granted. He, his father, mother and young sister arrived with 10 bags of luggage to start their new lives in Connecticut, where the Swaroop family has relatives.

Sajal spent his first year in the U.S. working as a shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s, looking after his sister while his parents worked, and establishing in-state residency. He also took the SAT and applied to UConn, the University of Massachusetts and Stony Brook University. He chose UConn, which offered him hefty scholarships and grants along with close proximity to his family and a self contained campus.

“Everything I need is here,” he said, “and there are few distractions, enabling me to focus on my studies and go home often. In my four years at UConn, the university has changed a lot. Its reputation has risen considerably, as has that of the BME program. UConn is regarded very highly, and all of the graduating engineering students I know either have good jobs lined up or they’ve been admitted to a reputed graduate school.”

His decision to pursue a degree in engineering was strategic. “I always liked engineering, though it was my intention to go into a medical profession. Several of my uncles back home in India are doctors or engineers, and my father is a mechanical engineer. I was surrounded by medical professionals and engineers. When I considered what type of training would provide me a sound foundation for dentistry, I decided to study biomedical engineering. It seemed to me that if I found I didn’t like dentistry, I could fall back on engineering as a profession. My decision to minor in materials science arose as from my desire to differentiate myself. After all dentistry is a combination of materials, machines and humans.”

“My UConn engineering education has been very good, and the BME program has provided me many opportunities to explore various experiences. The unconditional support of Dr. John Enderle [BME program director] and Lisa Ephraim [BME academic advisor] has made my four years a smooth journey. I am proud to represent UConn, BME and Dr. Enderle’s name to the next level of my education at Harvard.”

Sajal’s education has frequently taken place off campus. He shadowed a local dentist for two summers, helping around the clinic, observing the dentist as he completed various procedures, and eventually assisting in the completion of insurance paperwork. “I like that dentistry is an applications-oriented discipline,” he said. During the school year, until recently Sajal’s weekend mornings began in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital, where as a volunteer he escorted patients into the examination rooms, helped them complete paperwork, and sometimes shadowed trauma surgeries. The experience, he said, helped him develop better patient interactions that will be valuable in his career. Sajal also works 7-8 hours each week on campus in the laboratory of Dr. Rajeswari Kasi, a chemistry professor in the Institute of Materials Science. “I have been fortunate to be able to carry out my own research project. We’re developing an alternative to Gadolium-based contrasting agents, which are used to enhance the quality of an MRI scan. Our goal is to develop a polymer-based, biocompatible alternative,” he said.

In addition to these activities, Sajal is also in the University’s Honors Program and a grader for the BME program, for which he grades the homework assignments and quizzes of approximately 100 undergraduate students each week. As a senior, this year he is conducting a two-semester senior design project as well. Sajal’s team is developing a next-generation artificial shoulder model that will perform just as a human body would perform in equipment testing. The project is sponsored by healthcare products company Covidien.

Sajal’s success at UConn clearly reflects the merit of his advice to younger students: “Whatever you want to do, look around and find something that will help you stand out.”