Logo: University of Southern California

Not in Kansas Anymore

From Israel to Ecuador, Rome to Mexico, graduating senior Shira Bernard’s global travels fuel her love of engineering solutions.
By: Kathleen Concialdi
May 11, 2016 —


Photo by Elizabeth Bayne

As a high school senior in Kansas City, Kansas, Shira Bernard was considering studying pre-med at Emory University after graduation.

That is, until a USC representative came to visit her high school.

“I loved USC’s emphasis on math and science,” Bernard said, “and after that talk, I wanted to apply.” That was four years ago. Today, Bernard is preparing to graduate from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Bernard has been involved in a variety of USC groups and projects, including Hillel, Freshman Academy, JEP and Alpha Delta Pi. When asked what she has been the most proud of during her time at USC, she paused to consider every group she has worked with and said, “I’m most proud of my work with ASBME; I have seen it grow so much”.

Bernard joined the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering (ASBME) as a freshman and is currently the co-president. During her time as ASBME president, she helped introduce the group’s first make-a-thon. “We recognized that there were problems in the world that engineers could solve,” Bernard recalled, “so we created the make-a-thon,” a design competition in which groups are presented with a challenge and have to develop an application-based solution.  This year’s challenge was to design and build a device that can treat minor injuries in outer space, in 30 hours, using limited materials.

During her time at USC, Bernard has had the opportunity to travel the world. She’s traveled to Mexico with Hillel, Rome with Viterbi Abroad, Israel with the Weizmann Institute and Ecuador with Medlife.

After finishing time in Rome with Viterbi Abroad, a summer overseas program empowering USC Viterbi students to broaden their engineering perspective in Europe, Bernard was accepted to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

“This was during the time of a lot of bombings, and I remember alarms would go off at all hours,” Bernard recalled. It was a shock, indeed, but her time at Weizmann allowed her the opportunity to work in Dr. Ron Diskin’s lab, studying protein structures and their role in drug delivery. Bernard remembered thinking that the opportunity to work with Dr. Diskin was a long shot, “but I asked, and he said yes — it showed me that it can’t hurt to just ask!”

In her time with Medlife, an organization that works to improve health care access in low-income, Latin American communities; Bernard saw firsthand the need for proper health care. In the summer of 2014, she went to Ecuador with the group to assist in their Mobile Clinic to provide dental, pediatric, and women’s health care to local citizens.

“I saw that somethings we take for granted here, such as taking an Advil for a headache, was just not accessible in Ecuador,” Bernard recalled. “It’s great that the mobile clinic is available, but what happens when we leave, when they don’t have the same care?”

At USC, Bernard has had her hand in many solutions designed to solve biomedical issues, including developing a glove to restore touch sensations to those affected by diabetes as a final project in her last class at USC Viterbi. While she enjoys research and product development, her time in ASBME and on group projects has developed a great skill and passion for engineering management. After graduation, she will go on to work with Abbott Laboratories rotating between disciplines for six months at a time.

“I am a people person,” Bernard declared. “I enjoy planning, organizing and mentoring.” And while her time at Abbott will enable her to experience the many facets of a biomedical engineering company, Bernard one days sees herself working in the field of technology management.