Stella Makris, just like every child (and many college students), was not always sure what she wanted to do with her life. She was born to a supportive Greek family who saw from an early age that Stella was smart and motivated – the only question was deciding where to focus her talents. “When I was young I wanted to be an actress, and then a veterinarian … I got into psychology for a while and then I was planning to go to college for forensic science,” explains Makris. “It came until I was applying to realize I should look into engineering. I knew I liked the hands on aspect of engineering, but I also wanted to combine that with my interests in anatomy.” Through a simple Google search she discovered the perfect blend and suddenly her mission was clear.
Now entering her junior year as a biomedical engineering major following the biomaterials path Stella “could not be happier.” Each day she wakes up at 7:30 a.m. to get a head start studying cell and tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and artificial organs. Some days are easier than others. “I like to give my days to my academics aside from a little personal time at the gym or getting food. I prioritize getting everything done so that I can have relaxation and social time on weekends. I swear the time I spend out with my friends is the only thing keeping me sane,” Makris confesses.
Although it may seem like she’s got it all together Stella admits that she has had her fair share of setbacks. “My freshman year was a huge learning experience. I had gotten all As in high school so coming here and getting my first bad grade along with adjusting to college life was extremely difficult,” she says. I was always too proud to ask questions or get assistance on stuff I didn’t understand, but I later learned to utilize office hours and ask for help if I need it. I had never done that before, but I had to realize that using your resources doesn’t make you any less smart. The professors really care and want you to succeed.”
When Makris came to school, she was aware that she would be entering a male-dominated field, but she was not expecting the obvious male majority in her largest gen ed classes. Despite the apparent gender imbalance, Stella has experienced little to no gender discrimination in the classroom. “If you have the brain and something to say, you are respected. I’ve never had a guy show me up or act like he is better than me. I’ve always felt comfortable in a classroom setting so I’m not the kind of person that would allow myself to be stepped on just because of my gender. The world is changing and you can really see it at Penn State. Penn State does a really good job of not having that even be an issue,” Makris explains. She has taken a ‘female only’ section for her physics lab, which is one of many efforts Penn State has put forth to encourage more women to enter the major. “I am cautious once entering the workforce that this sexism is out there,” she says. “I’m not ignorant to that fact, but with Penn State’s alumni network, I am confident it won’t be too much of an issue.”
Out of each type of engineering, biomedical is the most popular among women. Makris hypothesizes that the trend is because “speaking historically, typically the more building types of work have been a male interest whereas medical work attracts both genders. To me, biomedical engineering is the perfect mix of both where you are engineering and applying technical skills, but still adding that medical aspect to it. The field has been blowing up recently, there is so much research left to be done and so much more to discover and I can’t wait to get into it.”
Looking forward, Stella is still figuring it out. Her focus may evolve, but for now she has a summer engineering program in China on her mind and graduate school on the horizon.
Part of Stella’s unwavering drive to succeed stems from her upbringing – raised with a strong Greek culture and two immigrant parents. Family and culture have always been the center of her world, and making her family proud is a priority. “To be an engineer, you have to interact with people all over the world, and that’s why I’m so thankful I’ve grown up understanding the Greek culture as well as American.” Makris illuminates, “It teaches me how to communicate effectively by understanding and respecting another culture.” Stella Makris is truly making the most of her gifts and opportunities and is sure to make a splash in the field of biomedical engineering research as an empowered woman.