Beyond the Classroom: Biomedical Engineering Major Ashleigh Jankowski Interns for Biotech Startup

Today we feature Ashleigh Jankowski, a senior Biomedical Engineering major and Chemistry minor and a Manufacturing Engineer Intern for the startup biotech company Vectech. Ashleigh serves as Service Chair for Society of Women Engineers and President of the Biomedical Engineering Society and is a member of the Food Insecurity Committee and Rowan Unified Sports. Since her freshman year, she has worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Mark Byrne’s lab along with doctoral student Robert Mosley (Ph.D., 2022). Ashleigh is from Catonsville, Maryland and also has an on-campus job as a Classroom Support Technician for the Rowan IRT department. Rowan Blog featured Ashleigh’s #PROFspective; read that here.

Why did you choose Rowan to study biomedical engineering?

It was truly the best fit for me. Everything just kind of worked out. I loved the campus, the area, and I really liked the distance that Rowan was from my home–plus,  it was affordable. Further, I knew that in finding and seeking out those things that I liked, I was still getting a top notch education. I was excited that I would be able to get into research right away because of the conversations I had with faculty members before I even started at Rowan. I also saw that the biomedical engineering department was really strong, which intrigued me as well. 

Why did you choose to study biomedical engineering? 

In high school, I was always really good at STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). For a little while I thought about the idea of being a doctor, but I realized that blood and guts really was not my thing! However, I still wanted to be able to help people. I figured even if I could not be a doctor, I could give them the tools that they need to succeed within the medical field. 

Ashleigh Jankowski headshot.
Ashleigh Jankowski

What are your future plans and what would be your dream job for working as a Biomedical Engineering major?

After I finish my bachelor’s degree, I intend to get a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and likely will also pursue a postdoctoral academia position. I hope to one day become a professor at a research university and to run my own lab, conducting research on nanotherapeutics for targeted drug delivery. 

I’ve been involved in research since my freshman year in Dr. Mark Byrne’s lab along with doctoral student Robert Mosley (Ph.D., 2022). Within this research lab we conduct research focused on biomimetic drug delivery devices, and my team specifically is developing bioconjugate nucleic acid drug delivery nano-carriers. I also did a summer program at the University of Maryland in drug delivery research as well.

I think it’s fascinating to see how healthcare is evolving and I would love to stay in this field any way I can. 

How did you seek out the internship opportunity for Vectech?

I utilized LinkedIn. I knew I wanted to be doing something different this summer.  As much as I love my research experience at Rowan, I wanted to branch out a little and broaden my experiences. I started looking for biotech companies that were looking for summer interns and I found Vectech. 

Ashleigh attaching a camera to a MosID device ( VecTech's initial product for automated identification of mosquito species.)
Ashleigh attaching a camera to a MosID device (VecTech’s initial product for automated identification of mosquito species).

What are the commitments of this internship? Can you talk about the pros and cons of working an internship in-person every day?

I feel that I’m very fortunate with this internship because they’re super flexible. Although it is 40 hours a week in-person, I can get my hours however I want. So that means that I can put in extra hours on Monday through Thursday, I can leave early Friday. 

They are also totally understanding that Covid-19 is still a concern. Many employees are still hybrid, and when one of our coworkers had an exposure, they let everyone in-person work from home for two days if we wanted to. I really feel like there are no downsides to doing this in-person because this company is so flexible. 

What do you do on a daily basis within this position? What is your position title? 

I’m a manufacturing engineer intern. There are two separate tasks I have for the whole summer. One is the manufacturer of their MosID machines. These machines are ones which public health organizations can use to identify mosquitoes by their species. Their goal is to have 40 of these built and sent out to public health companies by the end of the summer. A fellow intern and I have been tasked with doing the prototyping, ideation, and re-design as they optimize the device for automated use. They’ve given us a lot of freedom to experiment and access to materials and resources — whatever we need to optimize the machine.

Ashleigh presenting her research at the University of Maryland 2021 REU Poster Symposium.
Ashleigh (left) presenting her research at the University of Maryland 2021 REU Poster Symposium.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a Vectech intern? 

One challenge I would say is that this is the first time I’ve really been given this sort of freedom.  I’m able to purchase what we need to test things out and sometimes the design ideas don’t work. Therefore, it has kind of been a personal challenge for me to overcome that fear of failure. But really, that’s a huge part of the prototyping and design process. The first time I ordered something we put together and realized that it didn’t work the way we thought it would,  I was disappointed. But after testing many designs, some successful and some not, I’ve learned to roll with it — you really just have to embrace the process. 

What have you learned from being an intern at Vectech that you don’t think you could have learned from being in a classroom? 

First, as discussed earlier, I have learned that feeling of failure from my internship and the hands-on experience. Getting to test out designs, making things, and getting to see how they work is not really something you experience often in the classroom.  

Second, this company is a startup. So most of the machines they design are for public health companies. Therefore, most of the funding for these machines are made possible by grants. I’ve gained an understanding of the grant writing application process and how that side of funding works. My team has invited me to sit in on meetings where they talk with advisors for different grants that they’ve applied to, and I think that it has been a cool experience that I definitely wouldn’t have gotten in the classroom either.

Ashleigh (second in on left) on her team for the BMES Engineering Challenge Day: Prosthetic Leg Building.
Ashleigh (second in on left) on her team for the BMES Engineering Challenge Day: Prosthetic Leg Building.

What advice would you give for sticking out during the application and an interview process for applying to internships? 

Even if you think you’re not qualified, if you’re excited about it, apply anyway. I was nervous about applying for this position because all of my experience so far has been with chemicals, cells, and things that are so tiny that you need a microscope to look at them. Here I am applying for an internship that is pretty mechanical engineering heavy. I was nervous about that, but I went into the interview with a good attitude. I was honest about my areas of expertise and where I was inexperienced, but emphasized that I was willing to learn. I got the job, so obviously it worked out. 

How has your experience at Vectech helped prepare you and develop your skills for your professional endeavors? 

I would say it’s definitely broadened my skill sets. I’ve learned how to solder, how to drill and tap, some coding, and just different skills that I’ve never had. Maybe I could have learned them at school, but I wasn’t intentionally seeking them out. I’ve definitely broadened my skill set since working here!

VecTech company photo from the company summit.
Ashleigh (far left) and VecTech company photo from the company summit.

Are there any unexpected parts of your major?

Oh, for sure. As I have said before, I’m a STEM person. However, I hate physics with a passion. So I picked Biomedical Engineering because it’s the engineering area that I thought was least involved with physics. Then there I was last semester and I had to take two classes, Mechanical Foundations in Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Foundations in Biomedical Engineering, which are entirely physics classes. That definitely was a struggle for me and it threw me for a loop, but as it was, I’m glad I took those classes because I learned how to master the things that I struggled with before and saw through a new lens how they applied to my major. 

What are your favorite parts of your major?

I am a big picture person. With biomedical engineering research, I like that you have to be thinking about the big picture and you get to see things almost all the way through. For the nanoparticles we are developing in the lab, the end goal is for them to be a type of cancer treatment. I like that in developing these nanoparticles, you need to know every step of the process. First off, you need to understand the disease, then you have to develop your treatment and the nanoparticle, then you need to develop the bioconjugates and engineer those with the disease in mind, and finally you need to think about how it is presented to the market and how you can get funding for it. In the end, hopefully you can treat the disease that you’re actually looking at. I really like that this field allows me to see the big picture and be part of it. 

VecTech company team photo
VecTech company team photo. 

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Story by:
Natalie DePersia, senior public relations major 

Photos courtesy of:
Ashleigh Jankowski

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