HST graduate students Katerina Mantzavinou and Kelli Xu received the honor of being named 2015 Graduate Women of Excellence along with 49 of their colleagues across MIT. This biennial celebration, supported by the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE), selects nominees based on their leadership and service contributions to the Institute, their dedication to mentoring, and their drive to make changes to improve the student experience.
The awardees were celebrated at the Microsoft NERD Center on April 23, 2015 where students participated in a poster session that highlighted the criteria used to support their nomination.
Katerina Mantzavinou grew up in Athens, Greece in a family of engineers. This influence impacted Katerina’s path as she made her way to the United States in 2007 to first pursue a BS in engineering at Harvard, focusing on biomedical engineering, and then later enrolled in the HST program, where she discovered affordable medical device design opportunities within the MIT D-Lab.
Katerina pursued graduate school because of her passion to innovate technology used within healthcare, namely to create low-cost medical devices for global health. She’s passionate about providing affordable solutions for patients from every sphere. She’s currently designing an implant for local cancer therapy at the Koch Institute that will be easy to use, more drug efficient, and less toxic for patients.
Outside of the lab Katerina participates in the MIT Hacking Medicine organization and co-leads the global health track in the annual Grand Hack, coordinating with over 400 global participants. She is also helping to organize the first IMES Global Health Workshop, is a co-instructor for a low-cost prosthetics class at DLab, and is the HST Women’s Group co-director.
Katerina’s advice to younger or perspective graduate students is to not “lose faith when things aren’t working out—every ‘failed’ experiment or project can be the window to a new opportunity.” She also says, “Always remember why you came here and what your ultimate goal is; it’ll be your compass during good and bad times.”
Kelli Xu grew up in China, Japan, and Canada before she finally landed in California, where she pursued her undergraduate studies at UC San Diego. Kelli chose to attend graduate school to gain a better understanding of medicine in practice and to create engineering solutions for healthcare problems. She chose MIT for the rich community as, she says, “I loved the diversity of people I got to meet doing research, and I knew that MIT would be the perfect place to be inspired by people from all walks of life with all types of dreams.”
Kelli is working to develop X-ray phase-contrast imaging methods to intra-operatively detect breast cancer margins during lumpectomies. She’s also building a startup that uses spatial data from satellite images to inform infrastructure planning in developing countries. Kelli hopes to use her entrepreneurship to turn innovative ideas into impactful solutions. Included in this impact is a desire to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of healthcare as well as to bolster international development by streamlining siting and planning processes to allow for nimble project scale.
Outside of the lab Kelli is involved in the MIT Women’s Club Hockey as well as providing leadership as the co-chair of the Graduate Student Council (GCS) Activities Committee and the chair of the Arts Subcommittee of the GCS. She lead a campaign to establish an Institute-wide REFS program (iREFS), which launched in February 2015 and is comprised of 15 graduate students from across the Institute who are trained in conflict management and provide confidential peer support. Kelli says, “I think one of the major things that make MIT special is its incredibly diverse student population, so I believe opportunities that help graduate students engage with each other are really important to helping students get the most out of their MIT experience.”