MSE junior Victoria Reichelderfer is paving new paths for interdisciplinary leadership through a ‘Legacy Leadership’ experience, connecting her love of biology, teaching, and materials science and engineering through the opportunities provided by this prestigious program.
UConn’s Legacy Leadership Program aims to help students deepen their abilities as leaders, develop their connections with both peers and alumni in their given career paths, and prepare to make a better future for themselves and others as selfless, practical, responsible, and forward-thinking individuals. The program requires nomination by a faculty member and an extensive interview process to be accepted—in this case, she was nominated by MSE department head Professor Bryan Huey.
It’s a well-deserved position for Victoria. With a passion for biomaterials, she’s devoted her time to doing research in Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s lab since her sophomore year working on simulations for nanomaterials.
Professor Nakhmanson calls Victoria an “exceptional, very hard-working student.”
“I was involved in the Legacy Leadership Program nomination process for Victoria and I am very happy to hear that she finds this program enjoyable and useful for the development of her career,” he said. “Considering how closely we work now on multiple research topics, plus with Victoria currently taking my graduate-level class on phase transformations in materials, it is amazing how she finds extra time to participate in all of these outreach and leadership activities – and that is without drinking any coffee…”
On top of her research, Victoria also teaches prisoners physics at a correctional institute since her freshman year through the ‘Second Chance Educational Alliance.’
The prison education program helps reduce recidivism, Victoria says, and gives the prisoners a goal to work towards. Aided by two teaching assistants, Victoria visits her students once a week.
“That’s probably my favorite thing I’ve done in college,” Victoria says. “I make all the homeworks, and I get notes from my previous teachers and professors. It’s a little different than a traditional school environment, but we make it work. The prisoners love it. They are amazingly smart and motivated, which motivates me, and it’s why I like it so much.”
As a member of the Legacy Leadership Program, Victoria further develops those skills through meetings and activities. Once every two weeks, she meets with other members of the program to discuss the obstacles they’re facing.
“We talk about things that challenge us. We try and push ourselves out of our comfort zone,” Victoria said. “It does a good job of encouraging personal development, and showing you how you have opportunities to grow every day. We also learn to understand others and appreciate and develop empathy as a leader.”
Earlier in February, Victoria and her fellow leaders visited the Connecticut Forum in Hartford.
“We got to see Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia, and Samantha Power, the youngest-ever American ambassador to the United Nations. She gave a talk on America in the world, how we as a country are a leader in the world, and the kind of responsibility which comes with that. It was cool to get her inside perspective and see how it really works,” she said.
All Legacy Leaders are paired with a faculty advisor and an alumni advisor to help with academic and career guidance. Because of her interest in working with biomedicals, Victoria chose molecular and cell biology assistant professor Thomas Abbott, whom she had taken several classes with before.
“It’s nice to have somebody who has a different perspective to add to my engineering rigor,” Victoria said. “We just get along very well. We talk about leadership, the challenges of it, how to be a good leader.”
Dr. Abbott said working with Victoria has gone so well because they share a similar value system in terms of leadership.
“Victoria is quite passionate about her interests, and it shows. On top of everything else she does, this spring she is a peer mentor instructor for my Biology 1107 course. As expected, her session has been going very well,” he said. “What impressed me when she was a student in my class continues, and I look forward to our future Legacy interactions.”
Victoria said she went into materials science to combine both her love of biology and human medicine with her passion of engineering and analytics. When she graduates, she plans to study and develop biomaterials that act as drug delivery systems to the body.
“I love materials science because I can’t make up my mind. I was almost a pre-med, but with materials science, I can incorporate that by working with biomaterials,” she said. “My favorite one is the PLGA polymer, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid), which degrades into chemicals that your body can handle. They make it in wafers and fill it with a drug for glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. They open your head, cut out the tumor, leave the wafer, and it delivers the drug. It increases your life expectancy by 20 percent that way.”
Victoria said she wants to go into biomaterials engineering to continue doing what she’s doing as a leader and as a teacher: helping others.
“I want to know that every day when I’m going to work, I’m helping someone,” she said. “It’s helping people, and engineering systems, and biomaterials. It’s everything I want.”