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Burk-Rafel earns prestigious Luce Scholarship

A native of Bainbridge Island and graduate of Bainbridge High School, Jesse Burk-Rafel was recently selected as a 2010-11 Luce Scholar.

Burk-Rafel, a senior honors student in bioengineering at the University of Washington is the first UW student to receive the scholarship as an undergraduate since 1977. Previous Luce scholars were awarded the scholarship as graduate students or after they finished their undergraduate degrees. In 1994 a UW graduate student received the scholarship.

The University of Washington is the only Global Challenge institution with a Luce Scholar this year.

The Luce Scholars Program is a major national scholarship awarded to fewer than 20 students each year and is designed to raise awareness of Asia among young American leaders.

“I’m completely interested in learning different perspectives on health care and research labs,” Burk-Rafel said. “You can’t separate health care from the beliefs of the people and an immersive experience like the Luce Scholarship really helps you see that.”

As an undergraduate, Burk-Rafel has undertaken several independent biomedical research and design projects. He participated in an NIH-sponsored Clinical Research Experiences for Engineers program, designing a cancer-targeted magnetic nanoparticle for early detection of tumors. Currently, his research in Professor Dan Ratner’s lab involves developing biosensors for probing host-pathogen interactions, with an emphasis on intestinal diseases afflicting the third-world.

Burk-Rafel led an initiative to redesign the bioengineering undergraduate curriculum which has won widespread faculty support and has been submitted to the college for approval and implementation. Burk-Rafel received the first-ever Bioengineering Student Leadership Award from the faculty for pioneering this effort. He has also assisted in undergraduate teaching, serving as TA for “Bioengineering Physiology I” and as instructor for a pre-engineering Freshman Interest Group. His other awards and recognitions include the Mary Gates Research Scholarship, Undergraduate Scholar Award and the dean’s list.

Following graduation, Burk-Rafel intends to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Prior to entering an M.D./Ph.D. program, he hopes to cultivate a more mature understanding of global healthcare challenges, particularly in the areas of policy, research and therapeutics, and delivery of care. As a Luce Scholar, Burk-Rafel plans to study Asia’s efforts to meet healthcare challenges and improve patient outcomes.

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