Begum Cicekdag

Begum Cicekdag, a recent graduate of Bilfen Ankara Science High School and a potential biomedical engineering major at Columbia, is extremely passionate about sustainable and accessible healthcare technologies.

Being raised by a chemist mother and a civil engineer father, the world of STEM has always been a part of Begum`s day-to-day life. However, her first exposure to professional research was through a summer program during her freshman year. She pursued her own research at Acibadem University to review if the Simon effect, a natural phenomenon, could be eliminated or neutralized when the task is continuously repeated and subsequently determine how stimulus properties enter into processes of selection. Her research was later accepted to be presented at the yearly conference organized by the Human Brain Project, one of the European Union`s most funded research efforts, where she was the youngest ever participant.

During her sophomore year of high school, she wanted to delve deeper into the world of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine after being influenced by axolotls and their smiley faces. At Bilkent University, she investigated whether the acetylcholinesterase enzyme can be an alternative novel therapeutic agent in increasing regeneration rate, using zebrafish embryos as a model organism. Her project was selected as a finalist for the Genius Olympiad. In addition, she interned at the Center of Excellence in Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering at Middle Eastern Technical University where she had the opportunity to work on the bioprinting of 3D biocompatible hydrogel scaffolds. Begum was also awarded 3rd place in the yearly project competition organized by the The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Regional / Physics Category).

As Ideathon / Hackathon events became online during the COVID pandemic, Begum saw an opportunity to further develop her entrepreneurial side. Through a hackathon organized by the Mentorloops Innovation Platform, she and her partner developed an application idea for diabetic patients. Initially, they evaluated the current inadequacies of diabetes healthcare such as the lack of monitoring daily habits, the absence of continuous blood glucose data for personalized treatment decisions and frequent occurrences of diabetes-related complications, namely retinopathy and cardiovascular disease. To overcome these limitations, they decided to use an AI algorithm to extract meaningful insights from data and enable a holistic, simplified diabetes through determining optimal drug dose recommendations, providing personalized diet/exercise plans and offering proactive approaches to individuals with diabetes risk factors. Their start-up idea was given 1st place both in the biotechnology category and overall.

On a more personal note, Begum is a firm believer that children all around the world should be allowed to dream big, discover the world, set goals and further themselves beyond what they presume is achievable. Consequently, she loves teaching. One of her favourite hobbies is dancing - she used to be a licensed member of the Turkish National Dance Federation until she came to Columbia.

Adopting an interdisciplinary approach and combining engineering disciplines with life sciences, Begum`s desire is to improve global accessibility of healthcare, allowing for sustainability, equality, and inclusion. She is certain that her education at Columbia will be instrumental in achieving this goal, equipping her with essential 21st century skills.