This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Even as a child, Rahel Imru ’21 harbored a passion for science and felt a thrill of discovery when she conducted experiments. But by the time she was in high school, she began noticing that there weren’t many other Black students in her upper-level science classes.
So she set out to change that. Imru launched a junior chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at her high school and led outreach events at the neighboring middle school. She and her fellow students set up eye-catching experiments and helped their younger peers with science projects.
“I just wanted to make sure that other students of color didn’t feel discouraged, because those feelings of imposter syndrome can really hinder a student’s aspirations, goals, and dreams,” she said. “It was really important to me that students didn’t feel out of place — because there are times that I feel that way in science — so I wanted to be a part of that effort to help other students.”
Imru carried that passion to Harvard. She chose to concentrate in biomedical engineering at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with a secondary in global health and health policy, so she could learn how to combine technology and medicine to aid underrepresented communities.
A volunteer experience with Harvard Global Medical Brigades opened her eyes to the prevalence of health disparities on a global scale. As a freshman, Imru traveled to Nicaragua to work alongside doctors and nurses who were setting up a temporary medical clinic to serve rural communities that lacked access to even the most basic health services.
Imru was inspired by the way doctors and nurses selflessly cared for patients, and began to consider a career in medicine. At the same time, she wanted to delve deeper into cutting-edge biomedical research, so she joined Harvard’s International Genetically Engineered Machine competition team. In what was her first experience in a research lab, she and her teammates worked to genetically engineer blood vessel receptors so they could signal conditions like blood clots, narrowing of the blood vessels, and atherosclerosis.
The hands-on work was delicate and oftentimes frustrating but proved to be a big confidence booster.
“I learned that all the failed experiments were just as important as the positive results,” she said. “It was a great learning experience and it definitely taught a lot of patience, resilience, and a lot of skills that are really helpful to any fields you get into.”
As she contemplated her own career aspirations, Imru began looking for ways to encourage and inspire other Black students in STEM through the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers. She had joined the organization during her freshman year and served as its president when she was a junior.
Imru led the HSBSE board as they worked to bring more recruiters to campus to help students of color find internships and job opportunities. They partnered with the Princeton Review to offer sessions that explained the structure of the MCAT and shared study strategies, and they were able to offer HSBSE members a discount on the test.