Regan O’Donnell – Engineering


Julia Ochsenhirt, Assistant News Editor

Regan O’Donnell is an engineering major with a concentration in biomedical engineering. She is originally from the Boston suburb of Cohasset, Mass. and took a gap year before joining the engineering department’s inaugural class.

O’Donnell landed on engineering because of her strong science and mathematics backgrounds and because of the encouragement she received from her high school teachers. She also appreciated how engineering combined different scientific, mathematical and technological disciplines.

“I didn’t want to do a bio[logy] or chem[istry] major,” O’Donnell explained. “There wasn’t one science I was drawn to above the others.”

O’Donnell applied to both traditional engineering programs and liberal arts schools. She was drawn to Wake Forest’s size, location and liberal arts curriculum, as well as the opportunity to join a brand-new engineering program.

“In most engineering programs, I would have declared a biomedical engineering major during my freshman year and been locked into that path,” O’Donnell said. “Wake’s program gives you all the same fundamental skills you’d get from any engineering program, and then you can concentrate on whatever you’re interested in. It’s more of a project-oriented, critical thinking mindset.”

O’Donnell developed a keen interest in biomedical engineering during the summer following her sophomore year when she interned for Boston Scientific, a medical device company. As a research and development intern, she worked with a team of eight other engineers to build a new medical device. She intended to return to Boston Scientific in the summer of 2020, but the company canceled its internship program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Donnell continued to cultivate her passion for biomedical engineering through her senior capstone project in which, alongside a team of four other engineering majors, she explored the field of tissue engineering. The group developed a new method for cell-seeding, the process of spreading native human cells onto a three-dimensional surface where they grow into artificial tissues and organs.

“We were trying to make a method to make cell-seeding more homogeneous,” O’Donnell explained. “Typically, the cells cluster on different parts of the scaffold and don’t leave an even distribution for best growth. We created a system that traps the scaffold and cells and then rotates them for several hours to achieve a more even distribution.”

McDonnell has loved the small size of Wake Engineering. She explained that it fostered a tight-knit community and provided her the chance to direct her educational experiences in a way that might not be afforded at a larger institution.

“We have a group of 42 students in my graduating class, and I think 12 professors, so it’s been a super close-knit community since the beginning,” O’Donnell said. “I feel like I know my professors on a personal level, and being a part of this first-class at Wake Forest means we’ve really been able to make a legacy and guide the direction of the department.”

McDonnell’s professors had nothing but complimentary things to say about her.

“In my experience, Regan embodied curiosity, diligence and authenticity,” Carlos Kenga, Adjunct Professor at Wake Engineering and faculty advisor for O’Donnell’s capstone group said. “She acknowledged her gaps in knowledge or expertise and expressed a hunger to fill those gaps.”

“[O’Donnell] embodies all the values of the Department of Engineering — empowerment, growth, integrity, inclusion, compassion, and joy,” Olga Pierrakos, Founding Chair and Professor at Wake Engineering, said. “We are all so proud of her. I cannot wait to see her remarkable achievements after graduation.”

Alongside her commitment to academics, O’Donnell is involved in a variety of extracurricular activities on campus and in Winston-Salem. She has served as a President’s Aide — a group of students who serve as liaisons between students and university administration — and worked as a student volunteer or leader during various university events. Additionally, O’Donnell is a member of the Engineering Student Advisory Board, providing a student perspective on the engineering department’s curriculum and offerings. She is the secretary of Wake Forest’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and an instructor at CycleBar in Winston-Salem.

O’Donnell will be joining Putnam Associates, a Boston firm serving biopharmaceutical and medical device clients, as a consultant after graduation. She is excited to return to her hometown and pursue her passion for biomedicine.