Before bioengineering at Clemson, Julia Brisbane studied piano for 12 years at a magnet school for the arts in Charleston, South Carolina.

Math and science classes were not her top priority then, but attending an EMAG!NE event changed everything. EMAG!NE — a program offered by the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences — inspires K-12 students across the state to see the impact they can make on society in STEM careers. Participants work closely with Clemson faculty and students to test their abilities, find solutions to problems, and learn what next steps they can take to prepare for college and a major in engineering.

Julia Brisbane, right, works with Melinda Harman in the Rhodes Engineering Research Center at Clemson University.

Julia Brisbane, right, works with Melinda Harman, associate professor of bioengineering, in the Rhodes Engineering Research Center at Clemson University.

Brisbane first saw bioengineering as her path to becoming a surgeon. Then she dove into the biomaterials concentration and discovered other ways to make a difference.

“Bioengineers give people new life through orthopedic developments,” Brisbane said. “My long-term goal is to earn a Ph.D. and further advance research and education efforts in this area.”

The transition from high school to college wasn’t always easy, but she credits the RiSE (Residents in Science and Engineering) Living-Learning Community with connecting her to students with similar aspirations who became her closest friends.

Now Brisbane is thriving as a National Academy Engineering Grand Challenge Scholar, which she considers one of her primary undergraduate accomplishments: “My focus is engineering better medicines. I’ve completed four out of the five components, and right now I’m primarily working on research.”

Brisbane’s passion for research ignited the summer before her freshman year officially began. She was on campus for the FIRE program, which is aimed at giving underrepresented engineering and science students a head start on math, research and campus life.

During those two weeks, she learned about the support systems available through PEER (Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention) and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).

“PEER/WISE workshops made me think beyond just earning good grades, and about graduate school and summer research experiences,” Brisbane said.

FIRE is also where she met associate professor Melinda Harman, who helms the laboratory for Retrieval Research and Reprocessing of Medical Devices. Harman asked Brisbane to join her Creative Inquiry team — Clemson University Retrieval of Explants Program and Registry in Orthopaedics — and quickly became a valued mentor.

While collaborating with Harman, Brisbane decided she was most interested in biomechanics, or how internal and external forces act on the body during human movement. Her most recent investigation, for example, focused on a device that analyzes the anatomy of a femur.

“We’re working with orthopedic surgical teams to collect and process explanted medical devices,” she explained. “This allows us to develop tools and techniques for systematic evaluation of implant designs, biomaterials and function.”

For three semesters, Brisbane belonged to another Creative Inquiry project called Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries. As a member of the medical equipment team, she collaborated with a hospital in Haiti to determine its medical device needs.

“Most of their equipment came from older hospitals, and they didn’t know how to use it,” Brisbane said. “We created a medical equipment manual database and even worked on developing an app.”

Brisbane hopes to challenge other minority females to pursue engineering fields.

“There might not be many people who look like me in my degree program,” she said. “But everyone is rooting for you here, and all the resources that are available mean you’re never alone.”