Universitas 21 Conference 2016
This July, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Mexico and participate at the Universitas 21 undergraduate research conference “A Global Perspective on Ageing Societies”. I acted as a representative of Team INJECT’s work on liposomal drug delivery, of the Gemstone Program, and of the University of Maryland, with Casey Lim (Team VESSEL), Tom Mumford (Team MATRIX), and Jon Hoffman (Team DIRE). At the conference, I was given the opportunity to present my team’s research with a custom poster, while Casey and Tom filmed overviews of their research and participated in a panel focused on biomedical research with other presenters. The conference revolved around seven panels, which were divided up into different research areas and interests. After the videos, the audience was permitted to ask questions, which was all live-streamed to Universitas 21 institutions worldwide.
During our trip, we all became very close with students from countries around the world, such as Ireland, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, New Zealand, etc. While I appreciated the opportunity to talk and gain feedback about my own team’s research, I learned a great deal as well from simply listening to other students’ experiences. Some of the presenters were returning to university after many years, and their palpable excitement and passion that drove them to pursue more education led me to truly realize just how amazing an experience we were all given. We all traded stories, eager to discover both similarities and differences between our life experiences. For instance, Casey, Tom, and I were asked multiple times how similar college parties in the United States were to the film Neighbors, to our amusement. I was able to ask many British students for their opinions regarding the recent “Brexit” vote; and in a different conversation, I learned that many countries do not place a high priority in diversity in college and professional environments, compared to the United States. While all the Gemstone projects featured more laboratory-based research, many students chose to focus on social consequences of aging, such as pension systems, mobile apps, and social programs for the elderly, and all these subjects became part of the larger conversation regarding the increasing aging population.
Tecnológico de Monterrey is a beautiful campus, which sits in Monterrey, a developed city located in a valley between mountains. On one of our free afternoons, some students organized a hiking trip to see the city from above—the view was amazing, but possibly not worth risking dehydration in the 100 degree heat! To our surprise, one day, the US consulate stationed in Monterrey came to have lunch with us. The university did a fantastic job organizing sightseeing trips, museum tours, delicious meals, and even a salsa lesson with live music!
We were all sad to say goodbye at the airport, but I know that this experience will extend past the conference itself. The conference provided a collaborative platform for me to discuss my research and gain a “global perspective” that will greatly benefit me in my future career in medicine. I am planning on visiting one friend in Italy next year after I graduate, and students from the conference keep in regular contact. I learned so much from my time in Mexico, and although the conference only lasted 7 days, I know I made memories and friends that will last much, much longer.
Written by Melanie Zheng, September 13, 2016