Sarah Libring closes chapter on impressive legacy made at Purdue University

Sarah Libring, a Ph.D. student in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, is closing the chapter on her legacy made at Purdue University. Sarah was first exposed to engineering through the PLTW (Project Lead the Way) program in her high school. Around the same time, she watched a TED talk about regenerative medicine work and discovered the interdisciplinary field of biomedical engineering. While pursuing her B.S. in biomedical engineering at Rutgers University, Sarah conducted research through the Rutgers Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department and through the Rutgers Biomedical Engineering Department, publishing work from both laboratories. She also participated in two REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) programs at the University of Texas at Austin and Purdue University. Through these endeavors, she fostered research interests focused on understanding cellular responses to traumatic environments, such as during wound healing and cancer formation, and decided to continue research through a Ph.D. program.
Sarah Libring, NCI F99 Fellow and Ph.D. recipient, Weldon School of Purdue University

Sarah first entered the Purdue BME program in August 2017 and has since contributed tremendously through her research, as well as through her involvement with campus organizations. In particular, Sarah worked with the Women in Engineering program for three years, where groups of engineering students traveled to local schools and camps to lead K-8th graders in various engineering activities. She also served as the BME Graduate Student Association Professional Development Chair and Vice President, where she helped organize the 2019 Advancing Health: An Engineering­­–Medicine Partnership Conference and the 2020 Indiana CTSI Retreat.

Under Dr. Luis Solorio, her Ph.D. research has focused on extracellular matrix accumulation and reorganization in metastatic breast cancer, with consideration for the epithelial-mesenchymal transition of breast cancer cells and mechanotransduction when these disseminated cells enter a distant organ. Sarah states that, especially as a first-generation college student, Dr. Solorio has been a tremendous point of guidance as she navigated research projects, professional development, and applying for various fellowships and awards. His positive and motivating mentorship style was a point of joy in her graduate career. She is also particularly grateful to her various collaborators and other mentors at Purdue, especially Dr. Michael Wendt who has served as her co-mentor on multiple projects.

Dr. Solorio describes Sarah as an extremely hardworking student.

“Sarah has been able to accomplish so much in such a short time. She has developed into an excellent teacher, mentor, and leader. I think that the sky is the limit for her, and I have no doubts that she will be a wonderful professor one day soon," said Solorio. "The other thing that is incredible is that she has done all of this while starting a family. She has been just a wonderful student.”

Purdue University will always hold a special place in Sarah’s heart, as she has made many of her favorite memories in Indiana. When she was a senior at Rutgers, she came to visit her now-husband who was a Purdue undergraduate student at the time, and he proposed to her at Turkey Run State Park. Sarah also loved giving her New Jersey family a tour of the campus and introducing them to West Lafayette, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Sarah and her husband, Tyler Field, welcomed their first child, Mark Field, in March 2022.

Through her many experiences and accomplishments, Sarah has grown tremendously as a researcher and a mentor herself to undergraduate and graduate students in the lab. So far, she has published 12 peer-reviewed manuscripts, one textbook chapter, and been a part of one patent application while at Purdue. She has also been awarded three fellowships and several departmental and national awards, including an Indiana CTSI TL1 Pre-doctoral Fellowship, an IIE-GIRE International Research Fellowship, funded through the NSF, the 2021 national ACTS (Association for Clinical and Translational Sciences) Outstanding Pre-doctoral Trainee Award, and the Geddes-Greatbatch-Laufman award through the Weldon School. In 2021, she became Purdue’s first recipient of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) F99/K00 Pre-Doctoral to Post-Doctoral Fellowship. She was one of only 24 Ph.D. students across the country that year to receive the NCI fellowship.

Her advice to current Biomedical Engineering graduate students is that, while it is important to understand the whole field, it is most important to understand the niche that you are working toward and what you hope to contribute right now in your couple of years as a graduate student.

Sarah completed her dissertation defense on October 19th. After Purdue, Sarah will be a Postdoctoral Scholar at Vanderbilt University under Dr. Cynthia Reinhart-King in the Biomedical Engineering Department. She will be following her proposed NCI K00 aims, exploring the role of cancer-associated fibroblasts in metastatic breast cancer.