Biomedical engineering senior Schyler Rowland finds a home in the lab, collaborating to fight diseases

Schyler Rowland, Class of 2024 (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Biomedical engineering major Schyler Rowland doesn’t think you should be impressed by her accomplishments. And even though she’s spent all four of her undergraduate years working on research to make fighting cancer more successful and affordable, she’s not ready for kudos.

“I think not being part of the change, when I feel like I have a capability to help, would be a disservice to myself and others,” she said. “It’s really hard to get arrogant in the research field—because you can know a lot, and you still know so little.”

Rowland’s mom is a medical journalist in their home of Atlanta, and Rowland said hearing stories about people struggling with diseases and other medical issues spurred her desire to do something proactive.

“I wanted to learn more and solve problems that felt like they mattered,” she said.


Strong relationships with Michael King, J. Lawrence Wilson Professor of Engineering, professor of biomedical engineering and of radiology and radiological sciences, and King’s former graduate student Jenna Dombroski are what Rowland said are key to her transformative research journey.

“I emailed a ton of professors doing all different kinds of research. Dr. King was my first of multiple interviews, and he accepted me first, so I joined his lab right away,” she said. “I was so lucky because other than being adopted, joining Dr. King is the biggest thing that has actually pivoted my life.”

Michael King and his undergraduate and graduate lab team at Martin’s BBQ downtown (Submitted photo)

Rowland started assisting in the King Lab her freshman year, during the COVID pandemic, working closely with Dombroski, PhD’23.

“Jenna is my favorite person I have met at Vanderbilt. She has given me opportunities and led me and mentored me in a way that I don’t think most people experience in their lifetime,” Rowland said.

Rowland is sure that as she moves on to a Ph.D. research program, mentorship will be at the core.

I don’t know if I would’ve had the research experience or personal experience I had anywhere else because of those strong relationships. Dr. King is clearly very successful, and he’s also empathetic,” she said.


Rowland presenting her biomedical engineering research (Submitted photo)

The King Lab works in cellular engineering and drug delivery—using engineering concepts to better understand actions in the body—to ultimately fight diseases.

Specifically, Rowland has been focused on research around dendritic cells and how they can fight diseases like cancer.

“Basically, dendritic cells are a type of immune cell, and they get activated when your body says something’s not right. And then they help activate the rest of the immune system to go fight the thing that’s not right—in our case, cancer cells,” she explained.


The research Rowland has been helping with is trying to find more affordable treatments to activate these cancer-fighting cells.

“Currently the only way to activate dendritic cells is very expensive,” she said. “It’s one of the issues you don’t think about. You’re like, ‘No, let’s just kill the cancer.’ But the cost is a huge, overlooked problem.”


Schyler Rowland and her family (Submitted photo)

Rowland actually came to Vanderbilt as a theater major, with musical chops as a longtime violinist. She writes music and has taught herself to play multiple instruments; her favorites are guitar and piano.

She is the co-president of the Vanderbilt Piano Society and has taken classes at the Blair School of Music, including songwriting and sound mixing.

Rowland relishes having both music and science in her life and loves seeing live music around Nashville.

“Science obviously is very long term; music is instant gratification,” she said.



“I think everyone has grown here. I’ve definitely had to grow. I feel like I’ve had more personal growth than anything—learning how other people work, learning how to collaborate, learning how to ask for help. And yeah, just learning to be humble.”


“Whenever I’m struggling, one of the Ph.D. students I was with taught me to remember to lead with empathy, tenacity and humility. And, you know, whenever I’m frustrated or feeling some type of way, I ask myself if I’m doing those three things.”


“I feel like four years ago I thought everyone had it together and I had to have it together. Now I don’t think any of us do, which is humbling and just feels better.”