While reflecting on her undergraduate journey at Penn, senior Yasmina Al Ghadban says that she has a “ton of memories” she will take with her: lifelong friends made and skills developed through coursework, research, and teaching experiences, the chance to engage with public health communities on campus, and traveling for courses and internships. “That's the beauty of Penn,” she says. “There's just so many opportunities everywhere.”
As a double major in bioengineering and psychology, Al Ghadban, who is from Beirut, has certainly taken advantage of many such opportunities. Now, she is poised to leverage her “interdisciplinary lens” towards a future career in public health.
Looking for a place to grow and become more independent, Al Ghadban decided to come to Penn after graduating from the International College in Lebanon. After taking an introduction to bioengineering course during her freshman year, she became enthralled by the hands-on nature of the program and enrolled in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “I really enjoyed working with circuits and Arduino, being able to synthesize things, and I felt like being in engineering was the place where I was going to gain the most skills,” she says.
Al Ghadban is applying those skills as she completes her senior design project. She and a team of four seniors are building an autonomous robot equipped with Lidar sensors that it uses to create a map of a physical space. The team also programmed their robot to recognize high-touch surfaces that it then disinfects with UV light. “It’s a technology that is completely autonomous, cheaper than what’s on the market, and doesn’t put people at risk when they go in to disinfect,” she says. The team recently put the finishing touches on the project and presented their robot as part of a demonstration on April 14.
In addition to her degree in engineering, Al Ghadban’s interests in public and mental health spurred her to take courses and eventually pursue a double major in psychology, a field that she sees as complementary to engineering. “In psychology, we focus a lot on research and study design, research bias, and these things are similar in engineering and psychology,” she says. “Overall, I think they gave me different perspectives in terms of problem solving, and it’s nice to have that interdisciplinary lens.”
One place where Al Ghadban was able to use this interdisciplinary lens was while working as an research assistant in the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab with Michelle Johnson during her sophomore year. “The focus of the lab is to create robots for post-stroke rehabilitation, and the robotics part is very engineering-focused, but there is another part where people struggle doing the exercises,” she says. “Being able to engage with people and increasing their likelihood of doing that intervention, you rely on a lot from psychology, like interventions from positive psychology or research on how people stay engaged.”
Teaching and engaging on campus
Throughout her senior year, Al Ghadban has also been working as a teaching assistant for Math 240, part of the four-course calculus sequence. In addition to grading and office hours, Al Ghadban teaches two recitations each week. “It’s been really awesome to be able to help students,” she says. “It's helped me think of new ways to deliver information, especially in the virtual world where it forces you to be more innovative in your teaching methods. It really has been one of the highlights of my Penn experience, and I’m so glad I got to do it.”
Al Ghadban has also been engaged with the mental health and wellness community throughout her time at Penn. She worked as an anti-violence educator through Penn Violence Prevention, where she led regular workshops on bystander intervention; served as the president of Penn Wellness, a student think tank group focused on wellness issues and initiatives on campus; and worked as a training director for the Reach-A-Peer Helpline. She’s also currently an intern at the Penn Women’s Center. “Mental health and interpersonal-violence prevention are really important to me, and these are two things that I’ve been lucky to be engaged at Penn in different capacities,” she says.
Looking ahead, reflecting back
Through her professional and extracurricular activities, Al Ghadban realized that she wanted to go into public health and medicine as a career. Last year, she decided to submatriculate into Penn’s Master of Public Health program to become more engaged with these topics inside the classroom.
She sees her interdisciplinary lens as a useful perspective for a future career in family medicine or as an OB/GYN. “If I’m involved in research, a lot of the skills that I learned in engineering would be translational, and psychology and public health are very directly related in that way as well,” she says.
After graduation, she will be staying local while completing a virtual summer internship with the Sexual and Reproductive Health Branch at the United Nations Population Fund. She is hoping to spend some of the time exploring more of Philadelphia and regional parks with her dog, Lylah.
For now, as she reflects back on her four years as an undergraduate student, she’s grateful for the breadth and diversity of activities and opportunities she’s been able to engage with on campus.
“I have been really privileged to be involved in so many widely different things, and I really hope that in graduate school, even though it's going to be more focused, I can still find spaces where I can explore different things that interest me,” she says. “I’m really going to miss talking to anyone on campus and feeling like I can grow from that conversation, and that's something that I don't think I could have gained somewhere else.”