Associate Professor
Chemical & Biological Engineering
University of Idaho

As an undergraduate student, I received an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) to conduct research for 10 weeks during the summer in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute. This initial research experience was the catalyst for the rest of my career. I went on to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, where I focused on tendon tissue engineering. As a postdoc at Tufts University, I explored embryonic tendon development. I also received an NIH-sponsored fellowship through the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) program. As a part of this fellowship, I taught Introduction to Engineering at Bunker Hill Community College. Since 2015, I have been at the University of Idaho (UI) in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering. I teach upper-level courses in tissue biomechanics and tissue engineering as well as courses for first-year engineering students.

Who have been your mentors?
Dr. David Corr was my Ph.D. advisor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and he continues to be an outstanding mentor. I am also thankful for the mentoring provided by our collaborator, Dr. Doug Chrisey, throughout my Ph.D. training. Dr. Catherine Kuo was my postdoc advisor, and I am grateful for her continued mentorship. I also received helpful advice from Drs. David Kaplan, Mitch McVey, and Claire Moore at Tufts University, and Drs. Carolyn Hovde Bohach and Holly Wichman at the University of Idaho.

What are your specific research areas and expertise?
Our ultimate goal is to advance treatments for tendon injuries. To do this, we aim to understand the mechanisms that regulate tendon formation and healing. We explore impacts of biochemical and mechanical stimuli on cells and tendon as well as on stem cell differentiation.

What are you currently working on?
Our lab is currently working to determine the cell-level mechanisms that regulate the formation of a strong collagen matrix in developing tendon. We are also evaluating changes in the structure of tendon throughout development using 3D imaging.

What has been the biggest challenge for you in your research?
Securing funding is always a challenge. In Idaho, we have the Idaho IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program, which aims to augment and strengthen biomedical research capacity in the state. Idaho INBRE developed a statewide research network and supports undergraduate research, which resulted in some great collaborations and research projects to help address the funding challenge.

What project(s) are you looking forward to in the near future?
We have a few collaborative projects that are ramping up which include tuning the mechanical and biochemical properties of a hydrogel system to interrogate and regulate early stages of tenogenic stem cell differentiation. I am also excited about some recent work to better understand the mechanobiology of tendon formation.

What do you want to do next in your career?
The great thing about research is that we get to keep exploring – one question leads to another. I hope to continue to ask and answer interesting scientific questions to improve understanding of tendon formation to ultimately guide more effective treatments.

What advice would you give young investigators in the field?
Our lab motto is “do good work and have fun”. Build a supportive environment where your students can learn from each other, ask questions, and have fun. Also important is learning how to strategically say “yes”, but also how to say “no” when you are asked to commit your time to something. I am still learning how to do this. Don’t forget to reach out to trusted colleagues and mentors to help be strategic.

When you’re not in the lab, what do you like to do for fun?
My wife and I enjoy taking advantage of all the great outdoor activities the Pacific Northwest and northern Idaho have to offer from skiing and hiking to biking and fly fishing.

What resources would you like to see available from the ORS Tendon Section?
The ORS Tendon Section is great, and l look forward to participating more in the future. I encourage the Tendon Section to explore ways to further engage undergraduate student researchers.

How can we follow you?
Lab WebsiteLab Instagram* | LinkedIn

*Maintained by my students.