Jessica Austriaco, Class of May 2019

  • College of Engineering
Photo of Jessica Austriaco

Keep reaching for big ideas; Find strong advocates.

I decided to attend Illinois in Fall 2015 because of its competitive Bioengineering program. Within the Grainger College of Engineering, Bioengineering integrates science with imagination and creativity, the perfect fit for me and my personality, especially as this new field engages several up and coming facets – drug therapeutics, cell and tissue engineering, medical devices, and bioinformatics. Throughout my time at Illinois, I found supportive mentors and leaders who pushed me to my full potential and encouraged my leadership in the Center for Academic Resources in Engineering, in Engineering Ambassadors, as a YMCA Bailey Scholar, and for Engineering Open House projects through the Biomedical Medical Engineering Society (BMES). Dean Brunet, Dr. Amos, and Dana Tempel are just a few of the faculty and staff who supported my ability to thrive, despite challenges and trials, and my experience would not have been the same without their constant encouragement.

During my four years, I became involved in several student-run clubs and worked several campus jobs, including being a PHYS 101/211 Lab Assistant, leading ENG 100 as an Engineering Learning Assistant, and tutoring weekly at the Center for Academic Resources in Engineering (CARE) to support students. I wanted to support students in the same way that I felt supported by the college’s faculty and staff. Engineering Open House (EOH) was one of the most memorable parts of my college career. My freshman year, I became involved in a project that used technology called electroencephalography (commonly known as EEG) and electromyography (EMG), which captured electrical information in the brain and in our forearm muscles to play the classic video game, Pong. We applied concepts that we learned in bioengineering, and I fine-tuned my soft skills such as public speaking and professional writing. I was part of similar EOH teams during my sophomore and junior year. Senior year, I decided to recruit and lead a team to take the project a step further by utilizing the EEG technology on animals.

Inspired by Disney’s Up character, Dug, and his talking dog collar, I found the perfect team of friends and colleagues from a myriad of backgrounds to build this idea. My senior year was memorable as this interdisciplinary group of bioengineers, mechanical engineers, statistician-computer scientists developed our Alma the Talking Dog project for EOH 2019. See the video here: “Alma the Talking Dog” that describes the science behind our design and has garnered over 70,000 hits. Our story was shared by the College of Engineering and across campus as well as the local news station WGN. It was also showcased on other media, like Reddit, NPR, and the local News Gazette, among others. Since this project went viral, I am proud to mention that the project has now evolved into a student organization called Alma’s Talking Dogs, which continues to further our idea and design.

After graduation in May 2019 and working a full-time internship in Summer 2018, I earned a spot in the Clinical Trial Operations Development Program at AbbVie, a $33B biopharmaceutical company that spun off from Abbott Laboratories in 2013. My day-to-day experience at AbbVie has been innovative and exciting because of all the new drug products and teams that have emerged over the past two years. Over the next two years, I will be completing three rotations covering clinical trials and clinical drug supply management, data sciences and statistics, and clinical program development. Being recruited for the internship at the ACES Career Fair on campus during my junior year was instrumental in landing this position in AbbVie’s development program. During the internship, I gained invaluable experience in immunology on a study for Crohn’s Disease and honed my research, formal presentation, and project management skills throughout the experience. Upon returning to campus in August 2018, I was offered a full-time position with AbbVie. Similar to the opportunities to explore science with creativity at Illinois, I was drawn to the opportunities to share and implement new ideas at AbbVie. And, with their strong work culture of employee empowerment and support, especially by my program manager, I feel that my position at AbbVie is a good fit for me.

If I was to share one piece of advice to encourage current students in any field, it would be this: pursue your big ideas in life. When you have big ideas, reach for them, and when you do, seek strong support in launching those ideas. Sometimes, when people reach for their great ideas, they struggle to surround themselves with positive and strong supporters. Know who to pursue and find someone who can help. When you have these strong advocates—friends, professors, deans, students, family—no matter what challenges you may face, you will be one step closer to making your big ideas into success stories.

(Last Updated: February 16, 2020)