UW News

March 4, 2010

Bioengineering student first UW undergraduate awarded prestigious Luce Scholarship since 1977

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, Burk-Rafel is one of only 18 students nationwide to receive this scholarship. The last UW student selected as a Luce Scholar was a graduate student who received the scholarship in 1994. The last Luce Scholar who was a current UW undergraduate was in 1977. All told, only six UW students have received this scholarship.

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.

“I’m completely interested in learning different perspectives on healthcare and research labs,” says Burk-Rafel. “You can’t separate healthcare from the beliefs of the people and an immersive experience [like the Luce Scholarship] really helps you see that.”

As an undergraduate, Burk-Rafel’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 Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Dan Ratner’s lab involves developing biosensors for probing host-pathogen interactions, with an emphasis on intestinal diseases afflicting the third-world.

Burk-Rafel 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. Burk-Rafel received the first-ever Bioengineering Student Leadership Award from the faculty for this effort. He has also assisted in undergraduate teaching, and served 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.

Following graduation, Burk-Rafel 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, Burk-Rafel 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, Burk-Rafel 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.