Fischell Institute's Black History Month Spotlight: Corinne Martin

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Corinne Martin is a senior bioengineering student in Fischell Institute Fellow, BIOE, MPower, and Minta Martin Professor Chris Jewell’s lab

In high school, she participated in Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a four-year, STEM-based career readiness program focused on teaching engineering principles. This experience fueled Martin’s interest in pursuing engineering as a focus in college.

“I had always been drawn to science and math, but PLTW was what sparked a real passion for engineering,” she said. “I was excited by the idea of looking at the world, finding problems, and designing solutions.” 

Growing up in Severna Park, Maryland, Martin knew that the University of Maryland offered a really strong engineering program as well as a wide array of social and professional opportunities. Once she decided to pursue engineering for her undergraduate degree, applying to and attending UMD was a no-brainer. Though initially interested in mechanical engineering, Martin quickly realized bioengineering was her calling. 

“I hadn’t chosen a specific field of engineering to pursue when I entered the Clark school as a freshman,” she said.  ”At first, I thought I would become a mechanical engineer, but after my first semester, I realized that my heart was in biological science, so I declared my major as bioengineering and never looked back!” 

In the spring of 2022, after two summers of research at University of Maryland School of Medicine, Martin decided she wanted to seek out research opportunities on campus and apply for the BIOE Honors Program. During that time, she found the Jewell Lab, which brings together engineering and immunology to help fight disease. As someone with a personal interest in combating autoimmune diseases, Martin found herself drawn to this lab, and reached out to Jewell to inquire about joining his team. 

She comments that her time in the Jewell Lab has been a hugely valuable experience, and has set her standards sky-high for future mentors and lab groups.

“I’ve appreciated the fact that even as an undergraduate researcher, I’ve been given the same training and opportunities as a full-time grad student, including getting full animal facility user training, attending conferences in the U.S. and across continents, and, most importantly, being given a ton of personal agency to guide the direction of my work,” she said. “I’ve thrived on the mentorship that I’ve gotten from Dr. Jewell, my amazing mentor Senta, and everyone else in the lab.”

The Jewell Lab uses biomaterial drug delivery platforms to tune immune cell behaviors to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. Martin’s project focuses on treating multiple sclerosis (MS) by harnessing polymer particle platforms to efficiently deliver metabolites to manipulate immune cell metabolism. 

“As a researcher with an autoimmune disease (Crohn’s disease), it’s fascinating to be working on building out innovative strategies for autoimmune disease therapy that could eventually revolutionize treatment for patients like me,” she said. 

Martin also explained how being both biracial and a woman has shaped her experience as an individual and in the field of engineering, where it can sometimes be easy to feel the pressure of being a minority. 

“In PLTW in high school, I was part of a small group of girls in male-dominated classes led by white, male teachers, and I was doubly minoritized as one of the only Black or mixed-race kids in my entire community,” she said. “For a long time, I felt like I had to overcompensate to subvert the assumption that I was less capable than the male students, and to run against the stereotypes that society holds against minorities, and against Black people in particular.” 

When she was younger, being one of the only mixed girls in a community full of people with straight blond or brown hair, her hair was what made her stick out the most, Martin recounted.

“When I wore my hair down, kids and adults alike would grab and spring my curly hair without permission, marvel at how big it was, or tell me it looked like a lion’s mane. As a shy little kid, I couldn’t handle that extra degree of othering, so I hid it in a braid – quite literally from fifth grade through the first half of college,” she said.

For a long time, Martin believed these experiences were an inevitable part of living as a biracial woman. As she’s matured, she has realized that experiences like these are the fault of communities not being as diverse and inclusive as they should be. 

“These experiences have given me the drive to help shift the culture by championing representation and support for other younger students like me.”

Martin has a passion for teaching and tutoring, and is proud of the contributions she’s made doing so. For three years, she volunteered as a tutor for The Every Child Project at UMD, which supports K-12 students at risk of falling behind. In addition, for the past two years, Martin has worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant with Fischell Fellow and BIOE Associate Professor Catherine K. Kuo for the Biology for Engineers (BIOE120) course, for which she was recently awarded the BIOE Instructional Impact Award.

What’s more, last spring, she volunteered as a tutor for incarcerated students at the Jessup Correctional Institution through a practicum course with the UMD English department. 

“Mass incarceration is a huge driver of persisting racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the United States, and it’s important for me to support the successes of those who are impacted by the system,” Martin said. “As someone privileged enough to have access to higher education and find success in science and engineering, I think it’s my responsibility to actively engage in efforts to support younger students and others who may not have the support they need.”

Martin emphasizes the importance of the word celebration when it comes to celebrating Black History Month because it is equally as necessary to create space that honors Black joy and excellence as much as it is to highlight and call attention to the racism and systematic oppression that has marked Black history. 

“Inclusion and equity is not colorblindness! It’s an embrace and celebration of all different cultures and histories and the ways that our collective community benefits from the contributions of all of them,” she said. 

In the fall, Martin is planning to begin working toward her doctorate in bioengineering. For this work, she hopes to develop molecular tools that will advance the potential of gene and cell therapies to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. 

Outside of school and the lab, Martin loves being active. She grew up doing taekwondo and enjoys rock climbing, yoga, and pole dancing. When the weather is a bit warmer, she goes hiking almost every weekend with friends from UMD Club Climbing and Terrapin Trail Club, and her favorite hike is Old Rag in Shenandoah. In the future, she plans to get her yoga teacher certification so that she can volunteer to teach yoga classes in prisons. Beyond being active, she also enjoys cooking, baking, and crocheting. 

Published February 9, 2024