The Michigan Engineer News Center

Hannah Cheriyan: A world of possibility

Hannah Cheriyan is changing the world for the better through engineering and medicine.| Medium Read
EnlargePortrait of Hannah Cheriyan.
IMAGE:  Portrait of Hannah Cheriyan. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing.

Status: Alum

Hometown: Farmington Hills, MI

Department: Biomedical engineering

Graduation date: May 2015

Hannah is the type of person who makes impossibility melt away, who flashes a satisfied smile every time she talks about encountering a seemingly insolvable problem. From competing in creative writing contests to earning a minor in business and travelling around the world — all while working toward her degree in biomedical engineering — Hannah took on every opportunity and challenge during undergrad at the University of Michigan. Now, as she brings tools from her time in Michigan Engineering to pursue her M.D. and Ph.D. through U-M’s Medical Scientist Training Program, Hannah reflects on just how she got here.

Hannah was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and would have died without medical assistance. She was quickly airlifted to U-M and placed on a heart-lung machine that saved her life. Growing up and hearing about this amazing technology pushed her to develop a passion for medicine early on.

When she heard about the work being done by Dr. Robert Bartlett, M.D. in U-M’s Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) lab — the same one that had saved her as an infant —she emailed him to thank him for his efforts and share her excitement about his work. She ended up with a research opportunity, which lasted all four years of undergrad and culminated in her senior capstone project for the College of Engineering Honors Program.

As a member of the Honors Program’s inaugural class, Hannah is thankful to have been part of a community of intellectually curious, socially conscious peers who came from a smattering of majors and minors at U-M. “They’ve instilled in me the desire to use what I’ve learned in engineering to keep bettering the communities around me. And that is priceless.”

She did just that when she worked and studied abroad in Brazil, South Africa and India, taking endocrinology classes, singing with the Women’s Glee Club and field testing for CentriCyle, a non-profit startup trying to create manually-powered centrifuges for use in low-resource settings. These trips, more than anything, taught her the value of understanding where people are coming from when working to help them. “You need to sit down and have that conversation, have multiple conversations and really be willing to partner with other people while you’re working to make the world a better place.”

Research has been Hannah’s strongest interest since the end of high school, and while she started working with biomedical devices and still visits Dr. Bartlett’s lab, she is moving to focus on cancer research for her graduate studies.

It’s clear that Hannah, armed with her goal to help whomever she can, has a world of possibility in front of her. When asked during her freshman year how she wanted to change the world, she answered with a simple shrug – “for the better.”

Right now she’s pursuing that goal by learning to heal people. But she is keeping some of the other experiences in college, like entrepreneurship and global work, on her radar. “I’d like to leave room for the unexpected places your life may go.”

Portrait of Hannah Cheriyan.
Metal rods that are part of the molecular epitaxy beam apparatus at Michigan Engineering. Photo by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

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