University of Virginia student Daniel Naveed Tavakol will pursue his passion for tissue engineering in Switzerland after graduating in May.
Tavakol, a biomedical engineering major from Vienna, Virginia, has received a fellowship from the Whitaker International Program, which sends U.S. biomedical engineering students overseas to undertake a self-designed project. The program covers between $30,000 to $40,000, which includes travel expenses, a living stipend, an enrichment seminar and tuition costs up to $10,000.
“The Whitaker Fellowship will provide me with an incredible experience to go abroad, conduct research and learn an incredible amount about my interests in biomedical engineering and myself as a scientist and engineer,” Tavakol said. “As I will be going to Switzerland for a full year to conduct research on understanding hematopoietic stem cell recruitment in the bone marrow, I will be equipped for the rigor of graduate-level work for when I prepare to enter a Ph.D. program in 2018.”
This year, 32 fellows and 11 scholars (who have already earned their Ph.D.) were selected from a pool of around 100 applicants. Saying he was in “shock” when he heard he had received the fellowship, Tavakol said he looks forward to the unique experience.
“I’m still so excited about all the opportunities and experiences I will get in Lausanne, Switzerland,” he said. “A few other friends received fellowships to conduct research abroad, so it’s exciting that so many of my peers are hoping to explore their interests internationally as well.”
Tavakol, a researcher in the laboratory of biomedical engineering professor Shayn Peirce-Cottler, has focused his interest on biomaterials and vascular engineering over the past four years.
“Naveed is a devoted and fearless scientist and engineer,” Peirce-Cottler said. “He is willing to take calculated risks and apply his creativity to solving problems in the lab. His skill set covers the gamut – from being able to read the literature, envision and plan experiments, conduct experiments, analyze data, write reports and graphically represent his results, and even teach his peers. Naveed is the complete package and, most importantly, he really, really enjoys each step of this process.”
Tavakol said he found his direction partly through a course he co-taught.
“Throughout my time at UVA, I have been able to co-teach a course on regenerative medicine for two years now, and that has given me a love for engineering education and this subfield of biomedical engineering,” he said. “Through this course and my research, I have found a passion for tissue engineering, so I hope that is a part of my academic future.”
Will Guilford, director of educational innovation, associate professor and undergraduate program director in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, praised Tavakol for his abilities in multiple fields.
“Naveed is very much the trifecta of faculty achievement, having distinguished himself teaching in, conducting research in and performing outstanding service to the School of Engineering and Applied Science,” he said. “Naveed has achieved something rarely seen in an undergraduate, or even in most graduate students – exemplary service to his school, an exceptional level of published research and independent teaching.”
Guilford spent time in the class Tavakol co-taught and was impressed.
“Sitting in the back, I’ve been struck by the fact that while almost every student had a laptop open, none were perusing Facebook or sports scores – they were taking notes and referring back to the literature,” he said. “This speaks to the quality of the course that Naveed and his co-instructor put together and to the respect their peers have for them.”
Guilford also complimented Tavakol’s abilities as a researcher.
“Naveed’s research prowess is obvious,” Guilford said. “He has three publications spanning the fields of bench research and educational research. He also has an impressive track record of participation in national meetings of professional societies.”
A Rodman Scholar, Tavakol is a Lawn resident; was president of the Engineering Student Council; a Class of 2017 trustee; the fourth-year representative to the Rodman Scholars Council; and an Engineering School guide. He is a recipient of the UVA Engineering Outstanding Student Award. He is a member of the UVA and national chapters of the Biomedical Engineering Society, the American Society of Engineering Education, the American Physiological Society and the Virginia Science Olympiad state organization.
A graduate of James Madison High School, Tavakol plans to pursue a Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering, which he hopes will lead to a career in academia and research.
Tavakol said he applied for the Whitaker Fellowship to expand his knowledge on a variety of research disciplines and learn how to better interact and collaborate with individuals of all experiences and backgrounds.
“I am most excited to meet researchers with a diverse set of perspectives, as I believe many universities, and countries, for that matter, conduct research with different intrinsic contexts,” he said.