Meet Dr. Yanfen Li
Engineering education, STEM student recruitment and retention, tissue engineering and biomaterials pedagogy
Ph.D.: Bioengineering, (2018), University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign - Champaign, IL
Dissertation/Thesis Title: Engineered hydrogels for tracking cell signaling from the outside-in
BS: Bioengineering, (2012), University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign - Champaign, IL
The SAtB Journey
How did the idea for SAtB start?
It all began with a Biomedical Engineering (BME) student at UMass Lowell two years ago. She was with a family member who was a police officer and was having a conversation about work-life. That's when the issue of untested rape tests came up. Learning about the immense backlog with sexual assault kits (SAKs), this student envisioned a project idea and brought it to Dr. Yanfen Li as a potential capstone project. Lo and beyond, Dr. Li loved it!
How many total capstone groups and individuals have worked on SAtB?
Since 2019, this capstone project has been handed down to a set of new students every year. Three capstone groups and one independent study have worked on it so far, with a total of 12 individuals involved to date.
What competitions were entered? Was idea an immediate success?
In 2020 to 2021, the second capstone group entered two competitions: DifferenceMaker Prototyping Competition and VentureWell. For DifferenceMaker, the team brought the project to third place, and for VentureWell, they received the Stage 1 E-team grant. Funding from these competitions as well as University support is primarily what aids SAtB financially. Furthermore, understanding the dire need for such a method, SAtB has won the biggest community impact award every year, as determined through BME department.
What are Dr. Yanfen Li's thoughts about SAtB?
Rape and associated issues that deny victims their justice is something Dr. Li cares for vastly. When she discusses the topic, her passion and compassion is evident. It is something she feels connected to as most women do she says, since 91% of rape victims tend to be women. Given that, Dr. Li recognizes that this is not a gender-specific concern either and that guiding students through an inclusive solution is important to her.
Furthermore, she loves this project, because it is a tangible issue with a direct impact. The immediate effect is clear, and it is a wide-reaching idea that benefits a greater population unlike other capstone projects she has seen. In addition to this, she finds the project itself technical intriguing and challenging. However, at the same time, she is optimistic that SAtB is a device that can be widely accepted and used in crime labs in the future.
What the big picture future hopes for SAtB?
Ultimately, Dr. Li emphasizes how she wants SAtB to continue being a student-centered project. She says it has been that way from the start and recognizes the work and effort students put in it. She greatly enjoys a mentor role in guiding capstone students. Her dream is for students to take this idea and develop it as a non-profit organization in order to make a real-life impact for victims' lives.