Sahitya Allam is Research-Driven
Success in a Snapshot: Sahitya Allam, an Albert Dorman Honors College student from Bristow, Va., was honored at the 2017 NCE Salute to Engineering Excellence not only as the outstanding senior in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, but for the entire Newark College of Engineering. During her three years in NJIT’s accelerated medical program, she won a Goldwater Scholarship to pursue STEM studies, co-authored an article published in Science magazine and joined the Biomedical Engineering Society, the NJIT Pre-Health Society and Sigma Xi, the scientific research society. She also found time for others, as a biomedical engineering student ambassador and a peer health educator for NJIT’s Residential Life program who focused on stress management and mental health. But where Allam truly made her mark was in her independent neuroscience research, which she pursued, inventively and doggedly, from inception to provisional patent.
Singular Accomplishment: “My research, no doubt,” she says. Within a few weeks of arriving on campus freshman year, Allam secured an Undergraduate Research and Innovation (URI) grant to study the impact of inner-ear stimulation on the fine motor control skills of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, analyzing their writing to assess the therapy’s impact. Five months later, she presented her work to entrepreneurs, investors, government leaders and other student competitors at the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network held at Princeton University. The youngest contestant there, she took away the best presentation prize. Later that year, she proposed a second project, the fabrication of an electrically conducting scaffold to spur the regeneration of nerve tissue, which combined two highly conductive polymers in a novel fashion. It won second place – and funding – at the 2015 TechQuest Innovation Competition, allowing her to conduct a proof-of-concept study that helped her go on to procure two National Science Foundation I-CORPS grants to fund commercialization ventures in addition to research. She has a provisional patent for that technology. Allam, who plans to become a medical researcher, set herself high standards from the outset for both ethics and practice, noting, “It was important to me to develop my own project from the ground up and to design a biomedical application based on my understanding from what I’d learned in class.”
Peak Adventure: While she excels in the laboratory, Allam also likes to step out of it. She recalls on her first day as a BME ambassador speaking to three prospective students at an open house who were considering NJIT’s biomedical engineering program. “I told them about my great teachers, like my advisor Michael Jaffe, the good balance of research and class work, all of the experiences I would not have had elsewhere and the confidence it gave me to really give my own ideas a shot.” Ever the scientist, she assessed her results. “All three came. It felt so great.”
Ambition: Allam plans to become a physician scientist, but is still mulling her route. She’s been accepted into medical schools and M.D./Ph.D. programs, and says it’s “really a matter of balance.” She’s deciding whether to be a clinician who teaches and conducts research on the side or principally a researcher with a smaller group of patients associated with her experiments. “I feel that as a physician scientist, I would have the credentials and the expertise needed to work closely with industry to perform preclinical and clinical trials on promising therapies, which could accelerate their pace of delivery to patients most at need. At the same time, I hope to apply the clinical insight I will gain by working with a specific patient population to design and create more individualized and effective therapies.”