First-generation student finds community and opportunity at Oregon State

Lesly Rojas is sitting in front of her laptop in her office.

Photo by Johanna Carson

Fresh from a 10-week summer software engineering internship with Medtronic in Boston, Lesly Rojas started her third year as an electrical and computer engineering student full of enthusiasm for medical technology research.

At Medtronic, Rojas worked to strengthen software communication protocols in the Hugo Robotic-Assisted Surgery System, an open surgical console with an HD-3D display, a system tower, and four robotic arms. She primarily focused on minimizing data loss between components of the system by ensuring a communications simulator stores data properly.

“None of my family is in that corporate space, so it was really interesting to finally work that 9- to-5 job and see what an actual engineer does,” Rojas said.

Rojas, a first-generation college student and first-generation American, learned of the Medtronic internship through her involvement with Oregon State’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. The national organization partners with companies like Medtronic to connect student members to industry opportunities, and to provide professional development training beforehand to sharpen students’ soft skills.

Prior to leaving for Boston, Rojas had served as a research fellow in the REU: Robotics in the World program at Oregon State University, where she completed a research project with Ravi Balasubramanian, assistant professor of robotics and mechanical engineering, in the Robotics and Human Control Systems Lab. The goal of the project was to design and 3D-model a stainless-steel tool to reduce damage to an orthopedic implant. The implant, also being developed in the lab, aims to increase motility and strength in wrist tendons post-surgery.

“What happens is that, if it’s scratched, like even a little bit, it makes the implant not usable for surgery,” Rojas said. “So, I developed a tool that holds the implant for the surgeon.”

Using 3D design software, including programs like SolidWorks, Rojas created and 3D-printed various prototypes for Corvallis-area surgeons to test in the lab.

“We tested a lot of designs, and I got to talk to the surgeons and say, ‘How do you think it feels?’” she said.

The surgeons’ needs involved simplicity and cost-efficiency. They also wanted something easy to sterilize, which meant minimizing small nooks and crannies within the tool.

Reflecting on her journey, Rojas emphasizes the importance of her joining Mathematics, Science, Engineering, Achievement, an organization helping underserved middle and high school students excel in STEM, at McKay High School in Salem, Oregon.

“That experience made a huge impact and changed my life,” Rojas said. “I want to be a part of exposing younger students to engineering and STEM.”

To accomplish this, Rojas has become an active campus community member, sharing information about opportunities for undergraduate research and academic club activities with other students.

“I gravitated to Oregon State because I knew they had a ton of clubs, and I love clubs because they tend to equal community,” Rojas said. “When I was coming up in high school, I knew that I wanted to become a part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.”

In her first year, Rojas served as an InnovationX ambassador, providing fellow engineering students with information about paths to becoming an entrepreneur. In her second year, Rojas was elected secretary of the Oregon State SHPE chapter. This summer, Rojas became more involved with the national organization. Her hard work and dedication were rewarded at the 10 th anniversary student chapter banquet, where Rojas was awarded Oregon State’s SHPE Officer of the Year.

“I just felt super appreciated, and that was really cool,” Rojas said.

This year, Rojas is spreading the word about Oregon State as a College of Engineering ambassador.

“The College of Engineering has done so much for me,” she said. “I want to give back and tell others about the different experiences — the research, the clubs, the internships, all of it — that Oregon State has to offer.”

Jan. 4, 2024