Brianna DeGone: Bioengineering major named 2018 salutatorian

Brianna DeGone, a bioengineering major from Turner, Maine, has been named the 2018 salutatorian at the University of Maine.

At Commencement, DeGone will earn a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering with a minor in business administration.

While at UMaine, DeGone was named a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholar and was the outstanding poster recipient at the Science and Education Symposium in Silver Springs, Maryland where NOAA scholars presented their work.

As a member of the UMaine women’s track and field team, DeGone’s personal-best throw of 36.99 meters in the javelin ranks seventh best in program history. She also has been recognized as a scholar-athlete for three consecutive years.

What research, internships or scholarly pursuits were you involved in as a student?
During my undergraduate career, I was fortunate enough to take part in two internships: one with IDEXX Laboratories in Westbrook, Maine and another at the Wells Reserve in Wells, Maine.

At IDEXX, I worked in research and development on veterinary diagnostic devices. I worked on the new product development team with lateral flow immunoassays and took part in the USDA submission process. While I was at IDEXX, they were named to the Fortune 500 list.

My internship opportunity at Wells Reserve was due to my NOAA Hollings Scholar Award. I did water quality research on the Kennebunk River and developed mediation steps to combat pollution for this large tourist attraction in Maine.

My senior capstone project is another unique research opportunity I’ve had as an undergrad. Our client is the Down East Emergency Medicine Institute (DEEMI) and we are constructing a wearable biosensing suite to transmit information of a missing person’s vitals to an on-site doctor. The project has included extensive research on current telemetry practices, FDA approval pathways and biosensor circuitry. Prior to graduation, we will conduct a live trial in a remote location with DEEMI to test our device.

Beyond academics, what extracurricular activities occupy your time?
The majority of my time is spent being a member of the women’s track and field team. My role on the team includes practicing, strength training, mentoring the younger athletes and community outreach in the area.

I’m also a member of National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Order of the Engineer, Phi Kappa Phi honor society, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I tutor student-athletes, and I am a student scholarship mentor at UMaine.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I have been accepted into UMaine’s MBA program and may return in the fall to complete my graduate degree and throw for the track team another year. I am also in the process of applying for entry-level positions with biomedical companies. If I receive an offer, I will complete the MBA degree online in unison with my career.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
My internship opportunities have been a direct reflection of my undergraduate degree at UMaine. The biomedical engineering program has allowed me to connect with exceptional individuals that are making my post-grad plans a reality. UMaine has provided me with lifelong friends and mentors I’ll forever be grateful for. My experience here has strengthened my time-management capabilities, confidence in public speaking and overall outlook when faced with a problem. Developing me as a student, athlete and overall individual is something I’ll forever be grateful for from UMaine.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
My philanthropic opportunities at UMaine have had the greatest impact on my worldly viewpoint.

While in college, I’ve been able to participate in several community outreach activities along with local and global fundraisers. I’ve taken part in the Engineering Expo on campus, the National Girls and Women in Sports Day Celebration, serving at Manna Ministries and various events through the American Heart Association. I played a role in UMaine’s dance marathon (Black BearTHON) and went on two international mission trips.

Broadening my horizons through service has been humbling and eye-opening. It really puts your personal problems into perspective and sparks a fire to keep serving. Volunteering will always be a large part of my life because of the experience I had at UMaine.

Why UMaine?
Growing up in Maine, I set the goal early that I wanted to be a part of UMaine athletics. I grew up a multisport athlete and from a young age, knew I wanted to pursue sports in college. I attended UMaine sporting events and took part in high school state meets on campus. I already had great memories on campus from high school sports and continuing here only made sense.

I also attended the Consider Engineering program when I was a junior in high school. I was able to learn about the different engineering departments, stay in the dorms and meet individuals who later became some of my closest friends. I loved the close-knit atmosphere of the campus. There were no highly-trafficked streets running through campus like you see at other universities. I liked the familiar faces at UMaine, but also the endless opportunities a larger campus provided.

But it was when attending other college tours that I realized the success of UMaine’s engineering program. I had tour guides from other New England universities telling me to check out UMaine for engineering. I realized that the best program for me was right in my home state.

How would you define the opportunities for student success at UMaine? Is there any particular initiative, program or set of resources that helped you succeed?
I believe the opportunities for student success are endless at the University of Maine if students take the initiative to take part in them. The number of clubs, programs and resources for students are numerous on campus but some require the internal motivation to utilize them.

For me, I believe a program I’ve benefited from is the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education, or RISE Center. I held two positions as a Maine learning assistant and a head instructional assistant through this program. I worked in the Department of Chemistry and gained a personal relationship with several professors, a deeper understanding of the material, and a small income. These connections resulted in strong letters of recommendation in my future.

Also, the tutoring resource on campus absolutely aided in my success. My freshman year I utilized the free tutoring program and as a senior, I tutored student-athletes in the courses I once found difficult. Returning to these introductory courses helped in preparation for graduate school exams and getting to know other student-athletes within my major.

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
My throwing coach Gerhard Skall has been my greatest mentor at UMaine. Not only has he taught me discipline and perseverance through my sport but has always been a constant reminder that school comes first. Many athletes struggle balancing academics with athletics, but he has always understood a student-athlete’s primary role of being a student. He’s always believed in me and offered advice both in the classroom and on the track.

Gerhard could not have been a bigger support system for me and always genuinely concerned about my well-being and workload. His personal experiences have made him wise beyond measure and his “wicked peachy” personality, as he likes to call it, can easily brighten anyone’s day. I couldn’t have done it without him.

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically?
For incoming students, I think getting involved is the most important part of enjoying college and being successful. If I didn’t have track as an outlet, academics would have quickly weighed me down. It’s important to figure out what you enjoy and find a club or organization with peers who share the same interests as you.

I highly recommend taking the list of “50 Things to Do Before You Graduate from the University of Maine” and setting the goal of completing it. There’s a lot more to a collegiate experience than stressing over schoolwork, and you’ll burn out before your four years are up if that’s your only focus.

Aside from that, meet your teachers, talk to upperclassmen and don’t be afraid to approach any resource you may have. Gaining a relationship with my professors and students who have taken courses before me has by far made me as successful as I’ve been. I could never have done it on my own, and people are more than willing to help. Sitting down with a tutor, a teacher, or a friend is the best, proactive approach to a successful undergraduate career.

And most importantly, don’t think you’ll flunk out of college if you fail an exam. Always study, but if it happens, it happens. I have failed an exam, and so have all my peers, but we’re all still graduating and so can you.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745