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York College transfer student wants to leave her mark through engineering

Abigail Wright, stands in front of landscape

Abigail Wright wants to make a difference. She’s seen the effects diseases can have on a person — lupus and arthritis are just a couple of the ones that run through her family — and she’s made it her mission to help people who are suffering. She’s not studying to be a doctor, though. Abigail is going to change the world of medicine through engineering.

Finding the right fit

Duquesne University’s new biomedical engineering program seemed perfect for Abigail. After graduating from a STEM academy high school in Vermont, she set off for the Pittsburgh school, excited to start the next chapter of her education. But, by the end of her first year, she knew the school just wasn’t the right fit for her. She felt Duquesne was really research-oriented, and that wasn’t quite her style.

“I’m a very kinesthetic learner,” she says. “I love getting my hands on things, taking them apart and putting them together.” So, she transferred to the Mechanical Engineering program at York College, known for its emphasis on project-based learning and impressive co-op program.

Now in her junior year, Abigail is confident that transferring to York College was the right decision for her. Her classes are small enough that her professors know her name and she’s been involved with countless projects. She’s currently in her second co-op with Becton Dickinson, a medical diagnostics equipment company.

In her co-ops, she’s been able to work on projects that could make a difference in the medical field, just like she’d hoped. Right now, she’s doing research and development with machines that prepare samples and put them through diagnostic steps, which could reduce human error in diagnostics.

“Doctors and nurses are great,” she says, “but there’s only so much they can do.” Engineering products to better diagnose patients and developing new equipment to help people — that’s where the next step in medical advancement lies, she says.

A role model for success

Abigail and her fellow female engineers are greatly outnumbered. And sometimes, that can be challenging. There are people who’ve talked down to her, she says, or suggested that she has it easier as a female engineer because programs just want to fill a quota. But, she tries not to let those people bother her. “I think my motto is to let it roll and just try my best to succeed,” she says. “I work as hard as any of the guys in my class, if not harder, to do well.”

She’s part of WISE, Women in Science and Engineering, and the Society of Women Engineers. There, she can learn from and network with other female engineers. She also draws inspiration from her mom, who adopted her and her sister from China and raised them on her own.

“Having a strong and independent mother, growing up with such a role model really helped me become who I am,” Abigail says. Her mother always encouraged her to follow her passion and do her best. It’s that kind of unconditional support that has helped Abigail flourish. “I’ve never had someone who told me I couldn’t be an engineer,” she says. 

Making a difference

Abigail’s capstone project reflects her desire to help others. She’ll be partnering with York Hospital, working on a medical device that keeps air bubbles from forming in IV bags during surgery. It’s that impact that continues to drive her in the field. “There’s just that connection that I’ve always felt towards having a personal impact on a person’s life,” she says. Her professors at York College have supported and prepared her to continue to make that impact as she looks ahead to her senior year and beyond.

“Being able to help someone and make a difference,” she says, “that’s what it’s all about.”