Undergraduate profile: An artist in engineering
When Mehek Gagneja was thinking about college, she wasn’t certain if she wanted to major in film or English or biosciences. But once she explored Rice, she knew that the school’s strong humanities programs, along with its reputation as a science and engineering powerhouse, made it the perfect place for her.
The rising senior ultimately chose to major in bioengineering, realizing that if she didn’t start the subject’s rigorous curriculum early in her college career, she might not graduate in four years. But she made a promise to herself: every semester she would take at least one class that had nothing to do with engineering at all.
“I need something like that in my life,” she said.
For Gagneja, blending the humanities and engineering was relatively easy. And one of the projects she took part in this past semester showcases her ability to walk between the two worlds with ease. Gagneja’s photography is on display at the Fondren Library, part of an exhibit of work by students enrolled in FOTO 388 “Photography in China.”
“It was pretty amazing,” she said of the experience. “We went to China on an eight-day trip over spring break, and we met a Rice anthropology student who was studying abroad there. That allowed us to be more connected to the people and the culture than if we were just tourists.”
Connection is important to Gagneja, who has also served as a volunteer with the Women’s Resource Center. She began working with the center as a freshman, and has handled things such as coordinating events related to well-being, women’s health and sexual assault. She has organized classes in car repair and self-defense for women and helped ensure that the office is a welcoming space for those who come in. She’ll continue volunteering next year.
While she recognizes that many women in STEM fields are a minority in their college classes or professions, she said that’s not been her experience as a bioengineer. And she believes that women bring an important perspective to research and group projects.
“Engineering is about problem solving, and when I’m working with a group of women in my classes, it’s such a collaborative experience. I feel like we notice things that others might not think about and we focus on each other’s strengths.”
This summer, Gagneja will intern at Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting firm.
“I won't necessarily be working on medical technology projects, but possibly any project in any of the industries that OW works in,” she said. “The connection between bioengineer and consulting is more about using the same engineering skills to tackle a variety of problems outside the engineering-only field.
She hopes one day to use her engineering experience to improve the lives of those around her.
“I feel like you go to college to get a cohesive education, and find an informed philosophy of the world,” she said. “My best experience at Rice has been to have all these different experiences with an amazing group of students, and those experiences help inform my own.”