The Chemical Engineer Who Wants to Make a Difference in Healthcare

| May 9, 2024

Alejandra Felix has been researching cancer cell behavior, to improve our fundamental understanding of this complex disease.

Graduating chemical engineering senior Alejandra Felix was first inspired to study engineering thanks to USC Viterbi's K-12 SHINE program for high school students. Now she conducts cutting edge cancer research. Image/Alejandra Felix

Graduating chemical engineering senior Alejandra Felix was first inspired to study engineering thanks to USC Viterbi’s K-12 SHINE program for high school students. Now she works on cutting-edge cancer research. Image/Alejandra Felix

Alejandra Felix is passionate about improving healthcare and reducing disparities. She is particularly driven to improve patient outcomes through cancer research. The graduating senior in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science has been working in the Graham Research Laboratory, which focuses on cutting-edge systems biology approaches that will help us better understand cancer and other diseases.

Felix will soon bring her talents back to USC, where she will continue as a Ph.D. student in the Mork Department.

We spoke with Felix about her college journey.

Alejandra Felix
Hometown: Huntington Park, California
Degree: B.S. Chemical Engineering (Biological and Pharmaceutical Engineering

What first inspired you to study engineering?

I’ve always aspired to make a difference in healthcare, especially growing up in a low-income community where I witnessed firsthand the healthcare disparities my community faced. This drove me to prioritize my education, with the goal of reducing healthcare disparities and learning about ways to create and make affordable treatments for patients. Initially, I did not imagine that engineering could help me achieve this goal, but that was until I was exposed to the different areas of engineering through the USC SHINE high school summer program at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. There, I learned that engineering can help create new devices and therapeutics for certain diseases. The creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving mindset of engineering and its ability to help me achieve my goal is what inspired me to pursue a degree in engineering.

What is something you’ve achieved while at USC Viterbi that you’re most passionate about?

Something that I’ve achieved while at USC Viterbi that I’m most passionate about is conducting research in Dr. Nicholas Graham’s lab. I never knew that engineering had the potential to intersect with biology and the possibility of making progress toward understanding certain human diseases like cancer.

Tell us about the research you have been working on.

I have been working on studying the effects of hypoxia on cancer cell metabolism. This strongly made an impact on me because it was the first time I was taking the lead on my own project. It really taught me not only how to manage my own project but also how to communicate with others when I needed help to keep driving this meaningful work forward. It also made me realize that I was really passionate about research and inspired me to continue pursuing research after graduating from my bachelor’s and to apply for my Ph.D.

Are there any extracurricular activities or organizations you have participated in during your studies?

I was a part of WChE during my studies, which was focused on supporting women and other marginalized chemical engineers. I was treasurer of WChE and was in charge of funding to make the events we hosted possible. It was a very important club for me as a first-generation undergraduate because I was able to speak to graduate students about their research and experiences as undergraduates in Chemical Engineering.

What are your plans post-graduation?

I will be attending USC again to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering.

Based on what you know now, what is your best advice for other students?

My best piece of advice is not to be afraid to ask or speak up and to know that you are meant to be where you are.

What’s an area where you feel like you’ve really grown between your first semester of college and today?

An area in which I feel I have really grown between my first semester and today is my communication skills. Coming into college, I was very afraid of asking for help or asking questions because I thought I was the only person in the room who didn’t understand. I truly learned that communication and asking for help really helped me excel in a lot of aspects of my life, both educationally and personally, and it is something that I continue to work on even today. Ultimately, I know that it is important to communicate my thoughts to be able to learn and move forward.


Published on May 9th, 2024

Last updated on May 9th, 2024

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