Scholar of the Week

Lianette Rivera
University of Michigan

Lianette Rivera, the recipient of the 2016 HENAAC Scholarship sponsored by the Chrysler Foundation in the amount of $2,125.00, is currently a doctoral candidate pursuing a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan. Lianette received her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez (UPRM) and her Master of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. A highly ambitious student, Lianette has sought mentorship and leadership roles where she could emphasize the relevance of a good education.

As a student in one of the most problematic public high schools, Lianette was determined to be a positive influence, which was sometimes difficult as she felt like an outcast for focusing on her academics and future. This did not deter Lianette from aggressively recruiting classmates to join different societies and clubs such as the Student Counseling Committee, National Honor Society, Math Club and Chemistry Club. Outside of school, Lianette sought additional ways to encourage members of her community to pursue higher learning. To that extent, Lianette served as a volunteer math tutor at the local library where she not only assisted students struggling in math, but exposed them to the possibilities of a promising future by attending college. Once in college, Lianette continued to tutor students from her high school and advised them on the college enrollment process.

Now, as a fourth-year graduate student in chemical engineering, Lianette has maintained her lifelong commitment to improving the quality of education by leading several organizations in outreach initiatives. As the Outreach Chair of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), she has led multiple outreach activities that target minority students in the Detroit area. During school visits, she is able to form a strong network of professors and professionals who were willing to participate in the activities. As the Chemical Engineering Graduate Society Outreach Chair, Lianette developed the very first summer internship for high school students in collaboration with University of Michigan departments, where students are paired with graduate students to work on research projects throughout the summer. Lianette’s leadership in community service has provided opportunities for recognition including the prestigious Martin Luther King award.

With regards to her academic and professional development, Lianette has established herself as a rising research scientist. As an undergraduate at UPRM, Lianette completed three research experiences as an undergraduate research assistant. In the chemistry department, she Investigated plants absorption of heavy metals for use in phytoremediation. She also trained and eventually supervised new students in research and development in phytoremediation. Her next research experience was in an ecology lab in the biology department. Her research was determining the water contamination levels by measuring Chlorophyll concentrations of different microalgae on rivers and lakes in Puerto Rico. During Spring 2010, she was an undergraduate research assistant in the chemical engineering department. Where her research focused on seeking innovative ideas for biodiesel development using microorganisms. Additionally, Lianette performed two summer internships. In the summer of 2009, she performed an internship at the Nano-Bio Interface Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focused on the study of pathogenic genes on bacteria. In the summer of 2010, she performed a summer internship at Mississippi State University. Her research involved developing biodiesel feedstock from lignocellulosic sugars by Rhodotorula glutinis.

Today, Lianette is currently on a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a University of Michigan Rackham Fellowship. Her research topic is the isolation and characterization of circulating tumor cells from pancreatic cancer patients. The goal of her project is not only to be able to isolate them but expand them ex-vivo such that these expanded cells can be introduced back into animal models to understand the biology of pancreatic tumor progression and metastasis. The project is high risk but highly rewarding. It not only required strong fundamental engineering principles to design the capture and culture microfluidics platform but also needs thorough understanding of tumor biology along with the knowledge of advanced microfabrication techniques to build and test the platform. This biotechnological approach will allow the development of novel non-invasive diagnostic and monitoring tools that will advance the field of cancer research.

Lianette has a driven personality. Her clear thinking capacity with a drive to execution, enthusiasm and passion about her scientific research along with her keen interpersonal skills, has proven her strong scientific ability, excellent commitment to learning, and demonstrated her willingness to share, teach and positively influence others.

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