Brittany Alphonse: A passion for bettering lives

BrittanyBiomedical engineers are in hot demand. The federal government says that the country will need thousands more over the next decade to support a health care system entwined with technology. These engineers of tomorrow are expected to command high salaries, work for prestigious companies and stay employed. However, for biomedical engineering senior Brittany Alphonse, it’s all about changing lives.

“It’s exciting when you’re able to help someone because all the work you put in paid off,” she says. “You get to see their reaction and how you’ve affected their life.”

The Massachusetts native sees herself changing lives. With her biomedical engineering background in physics, math, biology, electronics and computing, she can apply theory to tangible benefits like designing a better prosthetic, finding new ways to treat cancer or improving drug delivery, among other possibilities.

Wherever Alphonse, 21, lands, she’ll bring a resume that stands out. Her grades put her in the top 12 percent of the college and rank her No. 2 in the biomedical engineering program. On top of that, she serves as a student admissions representative and is a member of the Outing and Newman clubs.

“There are lots of people who make good grades but with Brittany she’s very disciplined and she takes a lot of pride in what she does,” says electrical engineering Professor G. Faye Boudreaux-Bartels. “She’s willing to go beyond what normally needs to be done.”

Alphonse delivers meticulous homework, speaks intelligently in class, lends a hand to her peers and serves as an electrical engineering TA. She is vice president of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi and is co-president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, which she co-founded in her junior year. In her sophomore year, she served as a mentor for students in the Engineering Living Learning Community. And every summer Alphonse has held a competitive internship.

As an intern at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Alphonse redesigned a mold used to grow tissue-engineered blood vessels by creating tissue rings. Her mold, still utilized today, allows researchers to grow five rings in each well rather than one while also reducing the amount of biological materials required.

During an internship at a Georgia Tech lab, she created a microfluidic flow focusing device to synthesize Janus Particles. The nano-particles hold promise for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Her most recent internship found her at URI working with researchers at the Graduate School of Oceanography to design electronic components for an underwater robot.

“I love the creativity required,” she says. “Engineering gives you an open box to solve things differently.”

Alphonse’s love affair with science blossomed in seventh grade. She became fascinated with genetics just as a debate about stem cells raged across the country. In high school, she joined the robotics club – “sports for nerds,” she calls it – and enrolled in advanced science classes. Between academics, she found time to serve as editor of the student newspaper, join the cross-country and lacrosse teams and play in the band.

She applied to URI after learning that a family friend planned to apply. She came to visit four times, drawn by the opportunity to mix a technical education with the liberal arts. Finally, she and her parents met with Professors Boudreaux-Bartels and Ying Sun over pizza and that sealed the deal.

“That’s when I realized I was not going to be just a number, but professors were going to know me,” Alphonse says.

Now not only do her professors know her name, but they know she’s destined to change people’s lives.