Thursday, January 4, 2024

Biomedical engineering scholar dedicates her life to improving the lives of others

Biomedical engineering scholar dedicates her life to improving the lives of others


JANUARY 2, 2023 — Biomedical engineering student Alanah Penn has dreamt of improving the quality of life for others through medicine since she was in elementary school. Although she originally wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon, she realized that she could actually build the equipment surgeons use and indirectly reach even more people. Thanks to the scholarship bearing the namesake of one UTSA’s named colleges, she is already making huge strides in the field as a junior in the UTSA Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, Penn found herself in San Antonio—and ultimately at UTSA—when her father was stationed to Fort Sam Houston in 2019. As a new San Antonian at the time, Penn wanted to become involved on campus and meet new people in the city. She joined UTSA’s National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter. This professional development organization creates a family-like atmosphere to support black engineers in their academic and professional development, while also encouraging the growth of minority representation in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“I have grown into a person I never thought I could be.”

“When I started at UTSA as a freshman, I made my first friends from joining UTSA’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. The members of the organization became a second family to me and inspired me to step up and push myself in ways I didn’t think were possible. I have grown into a person I never thought I could be,” Penn said.

During her sophomore year, Penn was the fundraising chair for the local NSBE chapter. Increasing financial constraints, however, almost brought all of her extra-curricular involvement to a halt. Paying for her own education, by fall 2020 Penn was working multiple jobs to cover all of her expenses. Unfortunately, she had to take on so many hours that she was forced to drop her fall classes before the end of the semester.

A paid internship with Stellantis, formerly known as Fiat/Chrysler Automobiles, that Penn received through NSBE, and summer tuition assistance, enabled Penn to catch up on some of her classes during the summer of 2021. Thanks to savings and a paid internship with Johnson & Johnson the following fall, she was able to re-enroll for the fall 2021 semester.

Upon her return to UTSA, Penn received both the Margie and Bill Klesse Endowed Scholarship in Chemical Engineering and the National Society of Black Engineers Academic Excellence Scholarship. She served as the treasurer for NSBE and even started a financial literacy series for the society’s members to help them learn how to pay off loans and become financially responsible. She was recently elected president of NSBE for the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year.

Penn spent this past summer interning at Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she enjoyed performing equipment validation and verification and helped design a test fixture for a fellow team. Her plans after receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2024 include receiving her doctorate in biomedical engineering and working for a medical device company. Later in life, she even hopes to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities and receive her MBA. With a bright future ahead of her, Penn expresses gratitude for her scholarships, noting that they have made all the difference for her current and future successes.

Read more about UTSA’s capital campaign—Be Bold: A Campaign for Our Future—and make a gift.

“Honestly, without my scholarships, I probably would not even be in school. They have taken away the stress I’ve had on my back and allowed me to excel in my classes and out of class activities. From the bottom of my heart, I could not be more grateful,” Penn said.

Jordan Allen

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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