May 18, 2015If you happened to see a runner out braving the blowing snow, frigid temperatures, and icy surfaces around Syracuse University this winter, it just might have been Emily Tucci ’15. This sort of commitment has led to high honors for the biomedical engineer and avid athlete. Tucci was selected as a University Scholar and the second place winner of the Norma Slepecky Undergraduate Research Prize for her research on push-up styles for use in rehabilitation practices. Similarly, she earned the Richard A. Bernard Award for her awareness to the needs of physically challenged individuals and applying engineering to address their needs. Tucci will soon be on her way to the next step in her academic career at Stanford University, so we met with her to learn more about her Syracuse University experience and what habits and qualities contributed to her incredibly successful undergraduate career. Q: What led you to biomedical engineering at Syracuse University? A: My interest in athletics really sparked my interest in how the body works. I became interested in orthopedic research back in high school. I'm a runner and I was injured frequently, so I was constantly in an orthopedic office because of one issue or another. I became interested in biomedical engineering separately, but when I discovered that the two fields overlapped, I decided to focus on biomechanics. SU has a great biomedical engineering program in a radius that is close enough to home. Plus, I wasn't 100 percent sure that I wanted to be a biomedical engineer. At Syracuse, I knew that if I switched majors, that there were many other strong programs offered. If I ended up changing majors, I wouldn't need to transfer to another university. Q. What has your undergraduate research been about? A. There is a common wrist injury that occurs when you fall on outstretched palms. We compared two different styles of pushups to try and determine which is better for people who have endured this injury. We’re still looking through the results. Military-style push-ups, with your hands flat on the floor, create more pressure at your wrist, which could lead to arthritis. Push-ups on your knuckles keep your wrists straight, but stretch the injured ligament. There isn’t a clear recommendation at this point. Q. What are you passionate about outside of your classwork and research? A. I run all the time. I’m still prone to injury, so it depends on how healthy I am, but I run 50 miles in a typical week. I don't like the treadmill, so I go out in the heat and the cold. It's not just something I to do to stay fit—it's my main hobby. Also, I’ve always been into oil painting and even considered majoring in it in college. I was able to take a small intermediate painting class through the College of Visual and Performing Arts last semester, and I paint often for myself and for friends. Q. What have you done that has led to such success at Syracuse University? A. Knowing when to ask for help or guidance. A lot of the internships and competitions I’ve been a part of were brought to my attention through faculty I had reached out to when I was unsure what my next step should be. Also, getting involved. There's so much to be a part of at Syracuse and I wish I had the opportunity to do even more. Experiences like serving a treasurer for Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and being a student leader in the College enhanced my experience and helped me form valuable relationships. I forced myself to try new things and it helped me to become more independent and be able to take more of a lead in projects than I was accustomed to. That makes it fun and it comes more naturally now. Q. What has Syracuse provided that has contributed to your success? A. Relationships with tremendously supportive faculty. I've gotten assistance on my essays for grad school applications from advisors through the Honors department. Frederick Werner at SUNY Upstate's Institute for Human Performance has been my mentor throughout my time at Syracuse and has helped me in all of my research endeavors. Professor Julie Hasenwinkel has always been there to give me advice to develop my academic profile. Recently, Professor Angela Zachmann has stepped in and served as a sounding board. I never expected this level of attention. I knew that I would have to try and establish faculty-student relationships, but I wasn’t expecting faculty to reach out to me as much as they have. Q. What’s next? A. I’m heading to Stanford to earn my master’s and Ph.D. and continue biomechanics research in their mechanical engineering program. It’s in Palo Alto, California, so the weather definitely helped with the decision as well. It’s much more conducive to running outdoors. There are many faculty members and labs there that are doing really interesting research I’m interested in. I’ve spoken with the professors and will start by doing rotations in their labs to help make a decision. I'm sad to be leaving Syracuse University, but excited and prepared for a new experience.