Undergrad takes top slot in NSBE research competition; topic was drug delivery

Computer science major wins third in pitch competition

Somtochukwu “Somto” Dimobi threw herself into research the minute she could after arriving from Lagos, Nigeria, to major in chemical engineering at Vanderbilt.

Now, the sophomore is collecting national kudos for research in biomedical engineering, an accomplishment she attributes to the university’s cross-collaborative culture and a popular program that pays undergraduates to pursue their engineering passions.

Somto Dimobi

Dimobi (ChBE’19) won first place in technical research at the National Society of Black Engineers’ Region III Fall Regional Conference, held in Atlanta Nov. 4-6. Her project title was “Validation of a Galectin-8 Reporter as a Measure of Nanocarrier Endosomal Escape and Biologic Drug Intracellular Bioavailability.” Michael Umenta (CS’17) won third place in the elevator pitch competition at the same conference for a presentation titled “More Intimate Event Networking.” He had to quickly convince judges to vote for Ember, an app to improve conference-goers’ experiences by allowing them to connect with others before they arrive.

Michael Umenta

Dimobi’s research involved validating a method to measure how much drug escapes from delivery vessels and destroys target genes. She used confocal microscopy to make a visual representation of the drug’s efficacy.

She worked in the lab of Craig Duvall, associate professor of biomedical engineering and director of graduate recruiting for that department, beginning the second semester of her freshman year. By summer, she was accepted into Vanderbilt’s Systems Biology and Bioengineering Undergraduate Research Experience (SyBBURE) program.

“SyBBURE is a year-long research program that paid me to think about any problems I wanted to solve, then opened doors for me to do it,” Dimobi said. “Working together in teams on different projects, it motivated me to think about problems in a less constrained way. I could think about them creatively while learning to work with other students.”

She said participating in NanoDay, an annual forum for students and faculty engaged in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, and the Undergraduate Research Fair, where she also took home honors for her drug delivery work, also primed her for success.

Her prize includes free registration for the national NSBE conference March 29-April 2 in Kansas City, Mo., to compete again winners from five other regions.

She said she chose Vanderbilt because of its generous financial aid program and high national ranking. But the path wasn’t easy.

“I applied twice. I didn’t get in the first time, but I wouldn’t have admitted me the first time, either,” Dimobi said. “Vanderbilt is so committed to service, so I did some self-improvement, took on some service projects and internships. The second time, I was accepted.”

Umenta, who also participates in SyBBURE, said the NSBE pitch competition was an important learning experience for him. The lesson: “I think the key is clarity. You need to be able to clearly lead your audience through the problem you are trying to solve, how you aim to solve it and how it is going to benefit them. Clarity comes before convincing, and if your audience doesn’t even understand what you’re pitching, good luck with trying to get them to invest in your idea.”


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering