Andrea Vargas-Mark MS’17 Found a Calling in Biomedical Engineering

The biomedical program at Columbia Engineering works "for people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of plans for the future,” says Andrea Vargas-Mark MS’17.
—Photo courtesy of Andrea Vargas-Mark

Venezuelan-born Andrea Vargas-Mark MS’17 always knew that she would be an engineer. While earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, that passion led her first to mechanical engineering, and the opportunity to develop creative designs for systems and mechanisms. But then her mother fell seriously ill, and as she underwent a battery of treatments and procedures, Vargas-Mark began to rethink her focus.

“I got to see all the incredible technology that biomedical engineers were developing,” she said. “From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to eventually come back to school and focus on biomedical engineering.”

As a first step, Vargas-Mark relocated from Florida to New York City in order to join several biotech start-ups. There, she was able to get first-hand experience working on projects such as 3D bioprinting of tissues and crafting better cartilage grafts for rhinoplasty.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that earning a master’s at Columbia Engineering afforded her an unmatched opportunity to grow professionally: the chance to attend a top program in biomedical engineering with close ties to both the city’s vibrant tech scene and global engineers and entrepreneurs, as well as the flexibility to continue her work as a design engineer at 3DBio Corporation. At 3DBio, she researches and develops human tissue engineered constructs and collaborates with surgeons to develop implantable and anatomically accurate 3D models to support patients’ healing. At Columbia Engineering, she was able to build on that experience by taking part in a year-long biomedical design class that paired her with a clinical mentor and provided a platform to develop new technologies for robotic surgeries. Her team focused on women’s health, creating technology to make robotic surgeries for procedures like hysterectomies more efficient and less invasive, and is currently in the process of filing a patent on it through Columbia Technology Ventures.

“The Biomedical Engineering Master’s program director, Katherine Reuther, has been invaluable in creating a program that can work for people from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of plans for the future,” Vargas-Mark said of her studies. “I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time, and the people I’ve been able to meet have been an incredibly valuable resource.”

Her mentors on campus have also included a diverse community of “super-empowering” women scientists and engineers, who haven’t just made her a better biomedical engineer, she says, but have imparted important lessons in teamwork and leadership.

Following her graduation in December, Vargas-Mark aims to return to full-time R&D work, pursuing her Columbia design team project while developing more technologies and products with the potential to help patients live better.

“I want my work to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

by Jesse Adams

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