Whitaker Fellowships Propel Research Careers of Four Promising UVA Grads

UVA's Thornton Hall, home of the School of Engineering and Applied Science

Four recent University of Virginia graduates will pursue their research with fellowships from the Whitaker International Program, which sends U.S. biomedical engineering students abroad to undertake self-designed projects.

The program covers between $30,000 to $40,000 apiece, which includes travel expenses, a living stipend, an enrichment seminar and tuition costs up to $10,000.

Daniel Naveed Tavakol of Vienna will pursue his passion for tissue engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland; Abigail Teitgen of Pittsford, New York will continue her work in cardiac biomechanics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand; Garrett Beeghly of Charlottesville will examine the role of the lymphatic system in cancer progression at the University of Cambridge; and Elise Gray-Gaillard of Chicago will engineer cancer immunotherapies at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

This year, 32 fellows and 11 scholars who have already earned their Ph.D.s, were selected from a pool of around 100 applicants.

“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. “I will be equipped for the rigor of graduate-level work for when I prepare to enter a Ph.D. program in 2018.”

Tavakol, a former researcher in the laboratory of UVA biomedical engineering professor Shayn Peirce-Cottler, has focused his interest on biomaterials and vascular engineering over the past four years. He said he found his direction partly through a course he co-taught.

“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.”

A Rodman Scholar, Tavakol was a Lawn resident, 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 received a 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 wants 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 conduct research with different intrinsic contexts,” he said.

Abigail Teitgen, of Pittsford, New York, will continue her research in cardiac biomechanics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

“I majored in biomedical engineering, conducting research in cardiac biomechanics, because I have always loved biology and wanted to help people in a practical way,” Teitgen said. “I have been conducting research in the Cardiac Biomechanics Group at UVA for several years now, which is what first sparked my interest in this line of research. Specifically, I am working to model the mechanical properties of the scar tissue that forms in the heart after heart attack.”

Teitgen, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, is the recipient of an Elsie Hughes Cabell Scholarship and a William Tyler and Gay Caskie Ross Scholarship. She was a Madison House volunteer at the UVA Medical Center and a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Biomedical Engineering Society. She is a graduate of Pittsford Mendon High School.

“The research I will be conducting through the Whitaker Fellowship is directly related to the work I hope to do in graduate school and in my future career, and will allow me to learn new skills such as finite-element modeling and medical image analysis, while building on what I have learned through my research at UVA,” Teitgen said. “I have always loved travel and adventure. I believe this fellowship will give me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and to become a global leader in biomedical engineering now and in my future career.”

Garrett Beeghly of Charlottesville will continue his research at the University of Cambridge to investigate the role of the lymphatic and immune systems in melanoma progression – in particular, using microfluidics to examine how tumors can prime downstream lymph nodes for metastasis.

Beeghly, who worked in assistant professor Jennifer Munson’s biomedical engineering laboratory, credits his mother with this direction in his research.

“My mother lost her leg to bone cancer when she was 14 years old,” Beeghly said. “Despite her diagnosis, she went on to teach me how to ski, lead me on a hike of the Blue Ridge Mountains and support me in all of my endeavors. Her courage, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity inspired me to pursue biomedical research.”

A Rodman Scholar, Beeghly was editor-in-chief of The Spectra: The Virginia Undergraduate Engineering and Science Research Journal; an officer for the Virginia Alpha Chapter of the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society; academic chair on the Rodman Scholars Council; a member of The Raven Society; an undergraduate teaching fellow; and a recipient of a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award. A graduate of Charlottesville High School, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and conduct research focused on personalizing cancer treatment.

“The Whitaker International Fellowship will allow me to travel abroad and seek new experiences while exploring my research interests before I enter a Ph.D. program,” he said.

Elise Gray-Gaillard of Chicago will continue research at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland to work toward developing a robust and reliable cancer immunotherapy.

“I will be marrying my two passions – biomedical engineering and mathematics – in order to engineer a specific and robust cancer immunotherapy,” Gray-Gaillard said. “We hope to extract T-cells from patients, engineer them to attack only cancerous tissue, and then re-inject the T-cells to eliminate the patient’s cancer.”

In the biomedical engineering lab of associate professor Kevin Janes, Gray-Gaillard has been researching Coxsackie virus B3, the leading cause of viral myocarditis ultimately leading to the need for a heart transplant.

“I have spent time exploring the chronic infection of the CVB3 virus as well as developing a computational model illustrating the acute infection and the complicated interactions with antiviral immune responses,” she said.

Gray-Gaillard, who graduated with high distinction and a double major in mathematics, was on the dean’s list every semester and a member of the Tau Beta Pi Honor Society and Biomedical Engineering Society. She was a teaching assistant for several biomedical engineering and mathematics classes and tutored students in mathematics and reading at local Charlottesville elementary schools. A graduate of Evanston Township High School, Gray-Gaillard plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and research a reliable cancer immunotherapy.

“Not only will I be living in Switzerland for a year reconnecting with my European roots as a dual citizen of the U.S. and France, but I will also be taking a powerful next step along the path to achieve my vision of biomedical engineering: developing a transformative biomedical technology that will advance clinical care, improve the human condition and cure the second-leading cause of death in the world: cancer,” she said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications