March 2, 2010

University of Washington bioengineering student awarded prestigious Luce Scholarship

By Undergraduate Academic Affairs

Jesse Burk-Rafel

Jesse Burk-Rafel, a senior Honors student in bioengineering, was recently selected as a 2010-11 Luce Scholar. A native of Bainbridge Island and graduate of Bainbridge High School, Jesse is the first UW student to receive the scholarship as an undergraduate since 1977 and one of 18 nationwide to receive this scholarship this year.

Honors student Jesse Burk-Rafel selected for unique scholarship program

Jesse Burk-Rafel, a senior Honors student in bioengineering, was recently selected as a 2010-11 Luce Scholar. A native of Bainbridge Island and graduate of Bainbridge High School, Jesse is the first UW student to receive the scholarship as an undergraduate since 1977 and one of 18 nationwide to receive this scholarship this year. Previous Luce scholars were awarded the scholarship as graduate students or after they finished their undergraduate degree. The last time an undergraduate was awarded the scholarship while a current student was in 1977; in 1994 a UW graduate student received the scholarship. Jesse is only the sixth UW student selected as a Luce Scholar.

The University of Washington is the only Global Challenge school with a Luce Scholar this year.

The Luce Scholars Program is a major national scholarship awarded to fewer than 20 students each year. More than 159 candidates were nominated by 65 colleges and universities this year. The program is designed to raise awareness of Asia among young American leaders and funds a stipend, language training, and places scholars in professional worksites in Asia. A unique element of the Luce Scholars Program is that the foundation seeks students with little to no experience in and of Asia. Students who have had broad experience in Asia or who are majoring in Asian studies, for example, are ineligible for the scholarship. About 70 colleges and universities across the United States are invited to nominate students for the Luce Scholars Program. The University of Washington, Rutgers University, and UCLA are the only Global Challenge peer institutions invited to nominate students.

“I’m profoundly interested in learning different perspectives on healthcare, including clinical medicine and research,” says Jesse. “You can’t separate a country’s healthcare system from the history and beliefs of its people and an immersive experience [like the Luce Scholarship] really helps you see that.”

As an undergraduate, Jesse’s academic accomplishments extend beyond the classroom and into research labs and leadership opportunities. He has undertaken several independent biomedical research and design projects. He participated in an NIH-sponsored Clinical Research Experiences for Engineers program, designing a cancer-targeted magnetic nanoparticle for early detection of tumors. Currently, his research in Professor Dan Ratner’s lab involves developing biosensors for probing host-pathogen interactions, with an emphasis on intestinal diseases afflicting the third-world.

Jesse led an initiative to redesign the bioengineering undergraduate curriculum. The new curriculum won widespread faculty support and has been submitted to the college for approval and implementation. Jesse received the first-ever Bioengineering Student Leadership Award from the faculty for pioneering this effort. He has also assisted in undergraduate teaching, serving as TA for “Bioengineering Physiology I” and as instructor for a pre-engineering Freshman Interest Group. His other awards and recognitions include the Mary Gates Research Scholarship, Undergraduate Scholar Award, and Deans List.

“I entered the department of bioengineering at the start of my sophomore year and have found it to be an extremely personal, individualized program,” Jesse wrote in an email. “Add to this the vast wealth of resources for conducting meaningful undergraduate research in any field imaginable and you see why I’m proud to be a Dawg.”

Following graduation, Jesse intends to build upon his undergraduate training as a bioengineer to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Prior to entering an M.D./Ph.D. program, he hopes to cultivate a more mature understanding of global healthcare challenges, particularly in the areas of policy, research and therapeutics, and delivery of care. As a Luce Scholar, Jesse plans to study Asia’s efforts to meet healthcare challenges and improve patient outcomes. He is especially interested in contributing to meaningful cross-cultural exchange between the American and Asian scientific and medical communities to improve the delivery of healthcare on a global scale.

Besides his academic pursuits, Jesse is an avid baker and soccer player. He has also worked as a deckhand on a salmon fishing boat in Alaska for two fishing seasons.

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