Victoria Gonzalez Canalle
Victoria is the type of person who likes to have her feet in multiple worlds, whether it’s Venezuela and Boston, engineering and prose, or clinical research and philanthropy.
Appropriately, the pre-medical student said it was two distinctly different classes her first year on campus that catapulted her academic journey.
“Everyone who is part of STEM probably says that chemistry is one of the hardest classes at BU. But the class definitely challenged me in how I study and taught me to be more disciplined. But there’s a lot of good support within the community. Students will collaborate and work together and try to figure out solutions.”
The other class that opened the biomedical engineering major’s eyes? Creative writing.
“I came out of that class a much better writer than when I came in.”
“There were 12 or 13 of us, and it was the most talkative class I’d ever been in. Very interesting writers from various parts of the world. Our teacher Stacy Mattingly created such a great, safe environment. She really pushed us and gave great feedback. She made me realize that I could actually write well. It was a very revelatory class.”
Victoria has also harnessed her varied interests to create meaningful social impact. For example, with the help of BU resources and support, she launched a company that produces and sells family-made food products to raise funds for teachers in South America.
“I was able to pursue my start-up because of Innovate@BU and the BUild Lab, which is an amazing place,” she recalls. “Such great mentors, such a great program. If you have a venture, a business, or even a project, you can apply to the program and get funding up to $3,000, which is really nice, especially if you’re a college student trying to fund your own venture.”
Victoria is currently on a gap year, working full-time at a cancer research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Ultimately, she wants to pursue research in women’s health and intends to enroll in medical school.
“I don’t know if I want to be a principal investigator in a lab or a physician or become involved through a biotech company. But biomedical engineering (BME) allows me to keep all those options open.”
And knowing Victoria, she may end up being all three.
To read Victoria’s full interview, please scroll below.
Q: What are you doing for your gap year?
A: I am working full time at a research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. I’d been working there part-time all through my first year. I do research in a few different areas, but my main focus is pancreatic cancer.
Q: Most students typically take a gap year between high school and college. Why between your first and second years?
A: It was not planned at all. COVID hit and I already knew that I wanted to do research full time at some point. And even though BU transitioned beautifully to remote education, I was not a great online learner. So I decided that a gap year would be a good idea. I’m still involved with BU during this time, so that’s really nice, too.
Q: Is biomedical engineering something that you came to BU specifically to pursue or do you have some larger goal?
A: I’ve always been a person who likes many different things. In high school, I didn’t have one outstanding strength that I knew I wanted to focus on. I was fairly good at a variety of different things. But I really like innovation, maybe going into business even if I end up with a medical degree. I like that engineering gives you strong technical skills though I didn’t want to be a mechanical engineer. I was really interested in healthcare, and biomedical engineering pretty much captured everything that I wanted to pursue, and BU has one of the best programs in the country. Healthcare is really my main goal.
Q: Is there a specific segment of healthcare that appeals to you most?
A: Right now, I’m doing research in cancer. But through some personal experiences, I’ve become really interested in women’s health. I feel like it’s not very well researched. I don’t know if I necessarily want to be a principal investigator in a lab, or a physician, or become involved through a biotech company. But BME allows me to keep all those options open, and going the pre-med route means even more options, so I’m not closing any doors on myself.
Q: When you first got to campus, was there anything that felt particularly surprising or challenging academically?
A: Definitely chemistry. Everyone who is part of STEM probably says that. Chemistry is one of the hardest classes at BU. Some people might call it a “weed-out” class. But the class definitely challenged me in how I study and taught me to be more disciplined. But there’s a lot of good support within the community. Students will collaborate and work together and try to figure out solutions.
Q: Is there a faculty member with whom you developed an impactful relationship?
A: Yes. My faculty advisor, Dr. Lucia Vaina. Now that I’ve decided to do pre-med, she’s been incredibly helpful. She has an MD and knows a lot about medical school. She’s always been a good guiding voice. She’s really honest and direct, no sugarcoating. I remember telling her, “I’m going to take a gap year, what do you think?” She was so supportive and said, “My gosh, doing full-time research is amazing.”
Another person was my writing professor, Stacy Mattingly, in the College of Arts & Sciences. I had her for the first semester of my first year, for Writing 120, a First-Year Writing Seminar. She was such a great teacher. There were 12 or 13 people in the class and it was the most talkative class I’d ever been in. Very interesting writers from various parts of the world. Stacy Mattingly created such a great, safe environment. She really pushed us as students and gave great feedback. The way that she trained us to write made me realize that I could actually write well.
Q: Was there a particular academic moment or experience that you would describe as transformative?
A: I have to go back to the writing class I just mentioned. I wasn’t just writing mediocre things. I was actually writing pieces that people enjoyed reading, pieces that I could feel proud of. It felt really awesome because you could talk about your writing struggles, what you wanted to convey, what wasn’t working. I came out of that class a much better writer than when I came in. So I would say that whole class was an “aha” moment for me, and that was just my first semester. It was a very revelatory class, for sure.
Q: Tell me about your start-up venture.
A: It’s called Marmelaad. I’m originally from Venezuela and the country was, and still is, going through a really tough time. I wanted to collect some money for the school that I attended, so I started selling fruit spreads. I collected about $200, which by Venezuelan standards is a good amount of money. I’m really passionate about helping people and I really love baking, so I figured I could turn this into a bigger project. When I came to BU, I decided to incorporate it. We provide really tasty apple-based fruit products that are low in sugar. We donate part of our profits to schools in Venezuela to support educators, whether it be for resources such as transportation or Wi-Fi.
I was able to pursue my start-up because of Innovate@BU and the BUild Lab, which is an amazing place. Such great mentors, such a great program. If you have a venture, a business, or even a project, you can apply to the program and, you can get funding up to $3,000, which is really nice, especially if you’re a college student trying to fund your own venture.
Q: Do you have a favorite study spot on campus?
A: One of my favorite spots to study is the Howard Thurman Center. The space is beautiful and they play music at 5 pm, so you can get a little break from all the things you have to do. Then the Law Tower building, which overlooks the Charles River and has great views. Another place is the Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre. Right outside the big theatre, they have little tables. It’s such a nice space, a really pleasant place to study.