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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet the blogger

My name is Jocelyn Dunn, often called Jocey or Joce by friends and family. I grew up in Sebring, Florida surrounded by the rural landscape of orange groves, swamp land, cattle ranches, lakes, and golf courses. Without the distraction of city lights, my hometown is perfect for star-gazing and that's where I started dreaming about space exploration. I am so thankful for those five-star views of the heavens and for the immense support of my family, teachers, and coaches!

After high school, I landed academic and athletic scholarships at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. I was fortunate to find a supportive environment for academics and athletics, a place where I could both study aerospace engineering and compete in golf at a collegiate-level.  This is also where I was first exposed to academic research.  I had wonderful mentorship from faculty in physics and aerospace medicine that helped me pursue my academic interests.

Over the course of my undergraduate studies, my dreaming about space exploration became attuned to the challenges that astronauts face while living and working in space, such as bone and muscle loss from being without gravity and radiation damage from being outside Earth's protective atmosphere. I was thinking broader and began studying biology, chemistry, and psychology in addition to engineering sciences. Human performance in the extreme environment of space is really what fueled my desire to go to graduate school to study biomedical engineering.

After graduation from Embry-Riddle, I moved to Indiana to begin studying biomedical engineering at Purdue University. Graduate coursework deepened my understanding of the engineering sciences and sharpened my ability to apply engineering principles to new contexts, specifically the biomechanics of human physiology. For my master's thesis, I furthered the development of a patented biomaterial for replacing damaged soft tissues, specifically liver tissue and blood vessels.

During this time, I found myself thinking "big picture" and wanting to address healthcare problems from a systems perspective. In studying chronic diseases I realized that better policies and methods for system improvement are as vitally needed as medical solutions. I started reading more and more scientific articles from the field of industrial engineering, and so began my PhD program in Operations Research at Purdue.

I am now working at the interface between humans and technology. My dissertation focuses on 1) developing intuitive and reliable methods for harnessing knowledge from real world data, and 2) implementing these methods to aide system improvement. The overall goal is generating data-driven knowledge that will help improve systems design, operations, and policies. These methods are general and can be applied to analyze data from wide-ranging domains, such as education, finance, and healthcare. My goal after graduation is to join a team in applied research that is focused on improving systems in order to positively impact people's lives; whether it be the lives of astronauts, patients, or young students, I want our work to have a positive impact on society.

Outside of research, I enjoy participating in K12 outreach programs for local communities. I've worked with teams of graduate students to organize tours of research labs, design activities for classrooms, and setup hands-on demonstrations at local fairs. The goal is to encourage young students to be interested in science and engineering. Inspiring young students is a great accomplishment, and I think we've had a lot of success on topics ranging from renewable energy to the scientific method to orthopedics.

As for hobbies, my golf game is not as sharp as it was in college, but I hope that after graduate school, I will have more time to practice. My long-term goal is qualifying for a US women's amateur championship. I stay active by running, weight-lifting, and practicing yoga each week. Then, recreationally, I like to play softball and volleyball, go biking, or take a swim. If you ask me to choose a restaurant, know that I have become a connoisseur of Neapolitan wood-fired pizza, so bring an appetite and curiosity for trying pizza pies!


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