The College of Engineering & Computing (CEC) is proud of its students’ commitment to research, study, and accomplishments in the classroom and beyond. Meet Presidential fellow and the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) fellow, Melissa Venedicto.

Melissa Venedicto

Materials Science and Engineering is a dynamic field involved in the synthesis, structure, properties, and performance of materials. Advanced materials are the foundation of manufactured products and many of the technological advances of this century were enabled by the development of new materials. The academic program offers specialization in metallurgy, ceramics, electronic materials, nanomaterials, and biomaterials.

Name: Melissa Venedicto
Hometown: Miami, FL
Degree/major: Ph.D. Material Science and Engineering

Why did you choose FIU CEC?
After completing my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at FIU, it was an obvious choice for me to continue my academic journey here. This university is surrounded by cultural diversity, and, not to mention, my family is around the area. While my academic opportunities are important, my decision to stay at FIU was mostly to be surrounded by the people I love most. My experience at FIU has been insightful, offering me a continuous stream of professional, personal, and academic growth opportunities. During my undergraduate years, I actively engaged in various leadership roles through student organizations, including the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which contributed significantly to my development as an individual and a future researcher. I am proud to have been recognized with awards for my academic and research accomplishments during that time; the Ronald E. McNair fellowship and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) scholarship were essential for supporting my academic career as they encouraged me to think about what skills are necessary for industry and how to network.  As a second-year Ph.D. student, I’m happy with my choice to stay at FIU, receiving both the Presidential Fellowship and the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) fellowship. These fellowships not only support me financially, allowing me to pursue my Ph.D. but also support me professionally, which gives me hope that my Ph.D. work will benefit society. This makes me confident that I can work towards this goal under my advisor Dr. Daniela Radu and my co-advisor Dr. Cheng-Yu Lai.

Why did you choose your Ph.D. concentration?
My concentration was chosen based on my undergraduate research experience for the NASA CRE2DO program. My research was developing biomaterials for drug delivery in cancer cells; this opportunity opened me to the wonderful world of biomaterials and nanomedical applications. I got to see the topics discussed in my classes, integrate them, and apply them to living organisms. This experience gave me the idea that artificial biomaterials can be developed for regenerative medicine applications such as bone fracture regeneration and bone ceramic implant stability.

Did you always want to be an engineer?
During my dual enrollment days, I dreamt of being an orthopedic surgeon and working towards that goal by attending medical school. Originally, I thought of enrolling as a biology major; however, after taking an introduction to biomedical engineering course, I considered being an engineer instead. This course allowed me to appreciate engineering and gave insight into how science is understood, researched, and developed for real-world applications. I am glad I made that transition from biology to engineering, as now I can directly apply my engineering background to my dream of developing the materials and implants needed for orthopedic surgeons.

What are your plans after completing your Ph.D?
After completing my Ph.D., I plan to continue expanding my knowledge and understanding of bone ceramics and biomaterials by working in this field either in industry or at a National Laboratory.

What clubs, student organizations or extracurricular activities do you recommend, are you part of or have been part of?
I have been the treasurer for BMES and both the outreach and graduate coordinator of SWE. These clubs are essential at FIU as they present an opportunity for professional development with conferences and plenty of networking outlets. In my experience, participating in student organizations was one of the most important parts of an early engineer’s career as it gives an outlet for getting your foot in the door and separating you from the crowd.

What has been the most challenging thing you have experienced as an engineering Ph.D. candidate (so far)?
The most challenging experience so far was definitely my first year in my program; I had to adjust my mindset completely. During undergrad, your goals are academics and extracurricular activities, but in graduate school, they shift to establishing yourself as a researcher. This meant prioritizing research, which for me meant countless nights trying to read scientific publications and understanding the prospects of my research. My days at the library went from practicing my organic chemistry and SolidWorks designs to searching for books on bone ceramics and materials for implants. Adjusting to this change was a hard but rewarding one.

What has been the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced as an engineering Ph.D candidate (so far)?
The most rewarding thing was seeing my countless nights of research pay off in my publications. In my first year, I was honored to have published a first-authored paper, “Disulfide-Modified Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles for Biomedical Applications” in MDPI Crystals, and a second-authored paper, “Infrared-Activated Bactericide: Rhenium Disulfide (ReS2)-Functionalized Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticles” in ACS Applied Biomaterials. It is an amazing feeling to showcase your work to the world, and has the potential to impact society. Not to mention, I was extremely proud and excited to receive the NSF GRFP fellowship! This program will directly support my research, not only financially but also opens new doors for professional development and allows me to expand my horizons to the world of biomaterials.

Any advice to prospective students thinking of majoring or concentrating in engineering?
Go for it! Being an engineer is a one-of-a-kind experience, and you get to see the world in a new light! While there might be challenges along the way, developing an engineering mindset will force you to think differently and tackle those challenges as an expert.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a student?
In the famous words of Dr. Michael Christie, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” this saying was evident in my time as a BME student and now as a Ph.D. student in MME. Dr. Christie’s saying can be applied to many things, such as all the responsibilities of being a senior design team leader during your final year and holding yourself accountable for your research and challenges. The idea that you are your own boss and keep yourself humble is essential for a career as a student since you are less likely to listen to those who try to take you down or push you aside. Keep yourself high and strive for success.

If you could have lunch/dinner with a famous engineering pioneer, who would it be? Why?
I would love to have a chat with Dr. Robert Langer; he is known as the “father of tissue engineering” and a pioneer in regenerative medicine. It would be an honor to gain some insight from him and discuss the prospects for the field.

When you’re not working on your Ph.D work, what do you like to do?
My favorite thing to do is discover new coffee shops around Miami; given my Cuban heritage, I’m obsessed with coffee. I love to go around different areas to find the best coffee, and making coffee is also a love of mine. Not to mention, I enjoy exercising and reading science-fiction novels.