Johannsen Has Earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Engineering

Activities at UVA: A. James Clark Scholars Program, Cavalier Marching Band section leader, UVA Wind Ensemble principal trumpet player

Q: Looking back to the time when you applied to UVA Engineering, why did you choose this school?

A: I found out about UVA through the QuestBridge scholarship, a program that, among other things, allows finalists to apply without cost to any of their college partners. I originally applied to biomedical engineering programs at a lot of different schools, but UVA offered excellent financial aid and also gave me many unique opportunities such as the Clark Scholars program and the Blue Ridge scholarship. More generally, I had lived in Colorado for my whole life, and I was very excited to be in a new place.

After your time here, how are you different now – how have you grown as a person?

A lot has changed! Learning to live independently, being the first one to go to college out of my immediate family, living in a new state, and taking engineering courses were all challenging experiences during my first year. After that, I studied abroad in Valencia and left the United States for the first time, learned a new language, took on financial independence, experienced a global pandemic, researched diabetes, and dealt with extreme levels of grief after losing my mom in 2019 and my sister in 2021. I also realized the importance of collaboration, using resources available to me, and having a supportive network of people, both academically and personally. I think the biggest takeaway for me is that it is important to develop strong connections with the people around you and to have resilient optimism, believing in yourself and your ability to succeed.

What was your favorite or most memorable educational experience at UVA Engineering, and why? Was there someone who helped you along your journey?

The most important is my BME capstone project under the guidance of Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler. I approached Dr. Peirce-Cottler with my interest in diabetes research after working in her lab the previous summer, and I was so excited to find out that she was willing to be my capstone advisor. We, along with two of my classmates, were able to create a project that is a pertinent intersection of both microvascular engineering and diabetic complications. The project consisted of an ex vivo murine brain slice model protocol that allows researchers to observe pericyte morphology in different glucose concentrations.

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 5 years old, and that diagnosis was the foundation of wanting to be a biomedical engineer, so it was very fulfilling and educational to study a disease that I am personally familiar with. My capstone group and BME cohort missed out on a lot of fundamental lab skills due to the COVID pandemic, so it was wonderful to finally step foot in the lab and conduct our own experiments.

What’s next for you?

I accepted a job offer at Vanda Pharmaceuticals in Washington, D.C., and I'll be working in their clinical development branch. I'm very happy that I will still be close to UVA, and that I'll get to spend some time living in a big city! After some time away, I’ll then consider graduate school.

What positive impact do you hope to make in the future? Is there a big societal challenge you’d like to help solve?

I would love to eventually work on technology for Type 1 diabetes, because I have a massive amount of personal motivation and investment in that. Beyond career goals, I just hope to be a well-rounded person that inspires others to follow their dreams. I have been given so much support, and I definitely want to give the same support to others. 

How has UVA Engineering prepared you for your future, for following your dreams or personal mission?

Academically, I think UVA's engineering school and the BME department sets students up for success by giving each student a holistic view of biomedical engineering. I have been exposed to so many different topics within the biomedical field and have learned how to think about designing solutions for complex health problems. I was given a chance to research and design solutions for diabetes, something that I wanted to do since I was little. I was also able to travel the world and gain a deeper understanding of different cultures, something that has enriched my outlook on life. The coursework is challenging, but there are so many different chances to collaborate with others and explore academic interests.

What advice would you give to engineering students who are just starting out?

I would tell any first year in engineering: If you have the opportunity to do something new that will diversify your professional or personal experiences, consider saying yes even if you are nervous, because you may discover something you love! You have access to a lot of resources while you're at UVA, so take advantage of the engineering career development services if you need someone to talk to about career aspirations or don't know what you want to do in the future. If you're struggling in classes or just need someone to talk to who has been where you are now, student and professor office hours can be a great place to start. Lastly, try to get to know the people around you, because the connections you make with people will be one of the longest lasting aspects of your time in college.

Class of 2022 Graduate Garrett Johannsen

Class of 2022 graduate Garrett Johannsen is earning a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering.