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CBE Senior Wants to Help Her Community

This article was written by Nicole Zelniker for College of Engineering News.

Daisy Aguilar Aguilar always knew she wanted to help the people in her community, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed her focus from broader chemical processes to research, where she can apply the principles of chemical engineering to create life-saving solutions.

“One of my uncles died because of COVID,” Aguilar said. “I helped my family with the money and put him in the hospital and got all the medicines and all of that, but sadly, he didn’t make it. I was thinking that at least in going into this pathway or trying to treat diseases or create vaccines or any sort of medicine, I think that’s another way to contribute to society and also keep my family safe.”

Aguilar, who is graduating with a B.S. in chemical engineering, did her first few years of her undergraduate degree at Johnston Community College before transferring to NC State. The transition wasn’t always easy, especially because so many of the systems she used changed. For example, JCC uses Microsoft, while NC State uses Google.

She is a Goodnight Scholar, which she said helped in her transition, and she also cited the kindness of her professors in helping with her move to the College of Engineering.

“They were caring,” she said. “All the professors were pretty welcoming, and pretty open to talking to the students. I always see them and say hi to them, and some of them even stop and ask how I’m doing.”

Aguilar was born in the United States and raised in Mexico for the first 15 years of her life. Once she decided she wanted to learn English and pursue an undergraduate degree in STEM, she came back to the states to start at JCC. Though she had a scholarship, she also had to work full time on top of being a full-time student. The Goodnight Scholarship she has with NC State has allowed her to focus solely on her studies.

In addition to the scholarship, Aguilar served on the diversity, equity and inclusion committee for the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and she is part of the University Ambassador Program, through which she gives campus tours. To de-stress, Aguilar has the rugby team, and she also makes sure to stop by whenever student groups host events on the Oval.

In her academic research, Aguilar worked primarily with Adriana San Miguel, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, in her research lab, and spent a summer at Shattuck Labs in Durham, North Carolina, learning more about biotechnology and biomolecular engineering. Aguilar said her time at Shattuck helped solidify her research interests and future career goals.

She has done research in a few areas while at NC State, but one of the most interesting to her has been vaccine creation at Shattuck Labs. At this lab, Aguilar got to work with researchers who were trying to mimic the RNA vaccine used to fight against COVID.

“It was kind of nice to see the other side of chemical engineering,” she said. “I met a lot of people that were in the same major as I was who were applying their knowledge.”

Though the majority of her immediate family lives in Mexico, Aguilar has several aunts and uncles in the area, and she stays close with her parents through phone calls.

“It’s a great support system,” she said. “I call my mom once a week.”

After graduation, Aguilar plans to attend the University of Florida to get her Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

“It’s a small department, so I like that,” she said. “There are two research labs that I’m interested in. One focuses on genetics and one on biomembrane engineering, so the focus is to treat diseases and improve material for creating vaccines.”