Matt Burak ’10

Student Leadership Award Winner

Matt Burak enrolled at URI because of its unique program that merges chemical engineering with biology: “I’ve always been interested in chemistry and biology, partly because my grandparents came down with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to help find a cure. And my grandfather and father are both engineers, so I wanted to keep that tradition alive, too.”

But it wasn’t just academics that lured him to URI. He was also recruited to compete on the swim team. Although the University dropped varsity swimming mid-way through Burak’s career, he worked to ensure that the team remained active as a club sport. It was for those efforts that he was rewarded with the University’s Rainville Student Leadership Award.

Burak led the URI swim team to set five national records for club teams—the 200 and 400 meter freestyle relays, the 200 meter medley relay, the 100 meter individual freestyle, and the 50 meter individual freestyle. During his sophomore year he was recognized as the smartest male athlete at URI for having earned the highest grade point average among all male athletes.

“Swimming helped me prioritize my time,” he said. “Without it, I’d probably have gone crazy. It’s important that I had both swimming and studying in my life.”

Burak also worked on a microbial fuel cell research project designed to use microorganisms to break down pharmaceutical waste products: “In the last couple of decades, there has been an increasing amount of pharmaceuticals turning up in ponds and reservoirs—especially heart disease drugs—and we don’t want them getting into our drinking water. We proposed using a fuel cell in a reservoir that will help remove these harmful drugs from the water supply.”

Burak’s next step is to enroll in a doctoral program at the University of Kentucky where he will study drug delivery systems for cancer therapy, with the goal of conducting his own research and teaching at the college level.

—Todd Mcleish