Eller Receives the Truman Scholarship
Kerry Eller, BioE’21, has been selected to receive the Truman Scholarship, the most prestigious award for junior-level undergraduate citizens of the United States who possess outstanding leadership skills and are interested in a career in public service.
Posted at St. Paul’s Hospital and Medical College in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Kerry Eller and her team were charged with repairing broken medical devices. But they soon discovered that much of the non-functional equipment had been donated by overseas organizations and had either arrived without critical parts or were not compatible with the hospital’s infrastructure.
“Confronted with these devices,” the Northeastern bioengineering student says, “we knew that what was needed was not a way to fix them, but a way to reinvent them entirely.”
Disheartened by the discovery that programs purporting to provide medical aid to low-income countries don’t always adequately meet the needs of the institutions in those countries, Eller and a team of students developed surveys to assess what St. Paul’s needed.
The survey also sought to evaluate the expertise of technicians in the bioengineering department at St. Paul’s Millennium Medical College. The goal, Eller says, was to support the Ethiopians in creating devices using the resources they already had available to them.
“What we found was a vast technical knowledge and ability to problem solve, but an absence of innovation training,” she says. “We spent the remainder of the trip teaching technicians, technical students, and engineers an open-source electronics platform that can allow rapid prototyping, and therefore can provide the foundation for innovative medical devices.”
The following year, 2019, was no less busy for Eller, a bioengineering student who is as passionate about science and engineering as she is about creating policies that serve the public good.
She traveled to Santiago, Chile, where she spent six months working on the prototype for a mosquito trap that remotely monitored the spread of disease. While she was there, she began developing a low-cost wearable pesticide monitor for agricultural workers. She looks forward to continuing the project once the pandemic ends.
Eller’s achievements have earned her a Truman Scholarship, the premiere fellowship in the United States for those pursuing careers as public service leaders.
The award recognizes exemplary academic abilities, as well as demonstrated leadership and the drive to serve the public. It provides funding for graduate study, mentoring, and connection to a national network of public service leaders. Former Truman Scholars include Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York; former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams; and current Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“I was, and still am, pretty shell-shocked,” Eller says. “I had absolutely no expectations of receiving the award. I feel like it is really hard to make those expectations for something that so few people receive. A bunch of past Truman Scholars have already reached out to me—including one Northeastern alumnus—so the impact of the community I am now fortunate enough to be a part of is really starting to hit me.”
Eller plans to use the scholarship to pay for a doctoral degree in bioengineering. She says she’d like to spend a year working in a community alongside researchers to develop a medical device that could help improve access to healthcare for the community’s residents. And down the road, she says she’d like to work with nonprofit organizations to develop medical technologies for low- and middle-income communities.
Two years ago, when she was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a Dialogue of Civilizations course at the United Nations, a teaching assistant said to Eller: “We have no choice but to be optimistic.” The sentiment, which was uttered by the teaching assistant after a long day of hearing distressing information about the climate, still resonates with Eller two years later. Eller says that she, too, remains optimistic “not by nature, but because I want to make a change in the world.”
“If I want to make a difference,” she says, “I have to know that change is possible.”
by Khalida Sarwari, News @ Northeastern
Kerry Eller COE’21, a Northeastern University junior, has been named a 2020 Truman Scholar, earning the United States’ premier graduate fellowship for those who intend to devote their careers to serving the public good. Eller, a bioengineering major with a political science minor, is one of 62 Scholars selected from a pool of 773 candidates nationwide, and she follows in the footsteps of Juan Gallego CSSH’20 and Kritika Singh COE’20, who earned the award in 2019.
The Truman Scholarship is a highly competitive, merit-based award that seeks to identify and reward college juniors who are true “change agents,” with the passion, intellect, and leadership potential to improve the ways that public entities—be they governmental bodies, nonprofits, educational institutions, or advocacy organizations—serve the public good.
Kerry Eller is dedicated to ensuring that those in low-income countries have access not simply to the medical technologies that save and enhance life, but also to the apparatus of development itself. Growing up in Rhode Island, Kerry spent high school summers developing a cell line that could be used to heal tears in the menisci. After her first year at Northeastern, she worked at Brown University developing novel assay techniques that led to an eightfold increase in her lab’s capacity to image fish larvae in search of chemicals that could repair vision impairments currently affecting 253 million people.
She next embarked on a project characterizing musculoskeletal effects of obesity, another rapidly increasing threat to human health. Most recently, Kerry completed a global co-op at the Center for Technology for Research and Development with Social Impact at Chile’s Universidad del Desarrollo. There, she worked to improve both the mechanical function and the diagnostic accuracy of a remote mosquito trap. In recognition of her outstanding accomplishments and potential as a scientific researcher, Kerry earned Northeastern’s nomination for the Goldwater Scholarship as well as the Truman Scholarship this year.
Kerry’s passion for research with social impact is also a distinguishing feature of her extensive extracurricular involvement in organizations dedicated to global health. Kerry aims to complete a PhD in bioengineering and to pursue a career working with communities around the world to develop culturally appropriate technologies that expand access to healthcare.
Truman Scholars have a long and distinguished history of public service. Notable Scholars include U.S. Senator Chris Coons; journalists George Stephanopolous and Jeffrey Toobin; Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice; former Arizona Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and civil rights advocate and author Michelle Alexander.