May graduate hopes to engineer medical breakthroughs


Renee Calderon grew up wanting to be a medical doctor, and wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. Through an opportunity to work in Dr. Yang Yun's research lab here at UA, she has discovered how to best achieve both goals in the field of medicine.

Yun, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, works with undergraduate and graduate students on his varied research projects, including the study of cancer treatment with targeted drug delivery systems. It is a subject of keen interest to Calderon, a Goldwater Scholar and a double major in biomedical engineering and chemistry who will graduate in May.


"Targeted drug delivery can make a treatment more effective and lessen side effects throughout the body," says Calderon, who is motivated, in part, by the people she has known who have battled cancer. "This could one day be used to treat one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer."

Calderon, who recently gave a presentation to members of UA's Board of Trustees on her Akron Experience, told them that the opportunity to do undergraduate research for the past two years has been the highlight of her college career.


After her presentation to the Board of Trustees, Renee Calderon is seen here with, from left, Student Trustee Ryan Thompson, Dr. Yang Yun and Andrienne Calderon.

It is that research experience in Yun's lab that has led Calderon to choose a career in medical research. This fall, she will head to Rice University in Houston to begin work on a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, with a focus on tissue engineering and biomaterials.

"Biomedical engineering is a very collaborative field, and fits so well with chemistry," notes Calderon. "It's really a field at the forefront of medical discoveries."

That the Central Catholic High School graduate chose UA is a natural fit — after all — the campus has always felt a lot like home. Her father, Dr. Thomas Calderon, is chair of the George Daverio School of Accountancy in the College of Business Administration and her mother, Andrienne Calderon, is director of administrative services for the CBA.

Even with her studies and lab work, Calderon found time to make a difference in various ways. She has tutored high school students, and volunteered at Aultman Hospital in Canton and at Summa Health System in Akron. She has been active in student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers and Biomedical Engineering Society, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Increasing Diversity in Engineering Academics (IDEAs) Program.

Calderon is also the recipient of several honors, including the Outstanding Students in Biomedical Engineering Award and The Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

She credits both Yun and Dr. Julie Zhao, director of the IDEAS program, as her mentors. With their guidance, she found her place in medicine.

"Dr. Zhao helps her students find their passion in engineering, and she encouraged me to pursue research opportunities," says Calderon. "Dr. Yun helped me find my niche — the research path that was right for me. If I could change anything about my time here, it would be to get involved with research even earlier."

"I’ve found my passion," notes Calderon. "Research is exciting and it suits me well. I'll be working less directly with patients, but I will be able to help them and make contributions to medicine."