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Life at Johns Hopkins University: Dublin High School’s Joanne Baek Combines Passions for Engineering, Chemistry and Biology

January 14, 2019

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—Dublin High School Class of 2018 alum Joanne Baek is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University currently studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBE) at the Whiting School of Engineering.

During her time at Dublin High School, Joanne was a part of the Engineering and Design Academy (DEDA) and served as the Finance Lead of the highly successful 2017-2018 Dublin High School InvenTeam.

Over winter break, I caught up with Joanne, who shared how her experiences at Dublin High influenced her to pursue ChemBE at Johns Hopkins.

photo with mom in front of the jhu campus

Joanne with her mom

Neha Harpanhalli: I understand that you applied to Johns Hopkins under their Early Decision (ED) admission process. How did you decide that Johns Hopkins was the ideal school for you?

Joanne Baek: “I first became seriously interested in Johns Hopkins (JHU) during my junior year of high school when their admissions representative gave a presentation at the Dublin High Career Center. JHU’s open curriculum and emphasis on undergraduate research were extremely appealing to me. When I later visited the JHU website, I found that the school’s mission statement and core values aligned with my own.

“I attended the admissions presentation again my senior year, to reaffirm my decision to apply ED. I never visited the campus because I felt that it wasn’t necessary for me: I was already sold on the academic aspects of JHU, so its location didn’t matter to me. I had always wanted to go to the East Coast for college, so being in Baltimore was enough for me. Also, I read a lot of blog posts on Hopkins Insider to get a feel for student life at JHU.”

Harpanhalli: You are majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBE) at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. When did you first become interested in this field?

Baek: “Having been in the Dublin High Engineering and Design Academy (DEDA), I already knew that I wanted to pursue engineering in college. I decided to look into bioengineering majors after taking AP Biology my junior year of high school. I researched the majors that Hopkins offered and discovered ChemBE. This major appealed to me not only because I enjoyed both chemistry and biology but also because of the endless career possibilities. ChemBE is extremely diverse in its applications, from cancer drug development to nanomaterials engineering to cosmetic chemistry. Even though I went into the major with a medical research application in mind, I knew that if I ever changed my mind, I would still have plenty of options open for me.”

Harpanhalli: Have you decided on any areas of specialization within your major?

Baek: “At Hopkins there are two focus areas/tracks available in ChemBE: Interfaces and Nanotechnology (I/N), and Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering (MCB). I’ve decided to pursue the latter because it better aligns with my academic interests.”

Harpanhalli: Describe the campus life and/or atmosphere at Johns Hopkins. What has been the highlight?

photo with my roommate at fell_s point in maryland

Joanne with roommate

Baek: “I live in Wolman Hall, which is a suite-style dorm with a private bathroom and kitchenette shared between 3-4 people. I love it because it feels like a mini-apartment and is homier than the traditional dorm. There are a lot of mini cafés on campus that you can purchase food from using dining dollars (part of the meal plan), and one main dining hall called the Fresh Food Café where you can use your meal swipes (also part of the meal plan). Personally, I think that the FFC is a hit or miss, but the other cafés serve pretty decent food! Not to mention that there are plenty of places to eat within a 5 minute radius of campus.

“We have two beautiful libraries that are conjoined in the middle: Brody Learning Commons and Milton S. Eisenhower. The former was built recently in 2012, so the design is super modern and pretty. It tends to be the more social library, so it’s great for group study sessions. MSE is much more quiet and serious, so I go there when I need to do some serious grinding.

“The main highlight of the campus atmosphere is how extremely collaborative it is. Everyone at Hopkins that I have met so far has been more than willing to work together on assignments and study for midterms or finals together. The school is on the smaller side (around 6,000 undergraduates) so the student body feels more tight-knit. All of the upperclassmen that I’ve asked have said that their favorite thing about Hopkins is the people.”

Harpanhalli: What was your typical schedule during your first semester at Johns Hopkins?

Baek: “I took 17 credits during my first semester (for reference, the maximum for engineering students is 18.5), which meant I had a busier schedule. Luckily, the earliest class time that Hopkins mostly offers is 9 AM.

“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were mostly lecture days while Tuesday and Thursday consisted of lab and sections. Lecture days were typically heavier because I had to go to class, take notes, and begin working on homework. On section/lab days, I would typically end the day earlier and spend time studying with friends in my room. I would also take the opportunity to nap during the extra free time I had.

“On average, I spent about 11 hours in lecture, 3 hours in lab, and 2 hours in section per week. Despite my heavy schedule, I still had plenty of time to relax and sleep. Your schedule in college is always changing, so make sure to make the most of each and every day!”

Harpanhalli: During your time at Dublin High School, you were a part of the highly successful 2017-2018 Dublin High InvenTeam, which participated in EurekaFest at MIT last June. Describe your experience as a part of the team. 


Photo credit: Eugene Chou from her Bulletin story

Baek: “The InvenTeam journey was long and sometimes daunting, but it was definitely memorable and a highlight of my time at DHS. My official position on the team was Finance Lead, but everyone on the InvenTeam definitely made contributions outside of their official duties. As part of the team, I was able to take engineering principles that I had learned in the classroom and apply it to real life. I learned so much about mechanical, electrical, and software engineering, while simultaneously gaining invaluable leadership skills. With the help of Ms. Eugene Chou, Greg Tietbohl, and generous sponsors, our InvenTeam was able to produce SpORT and present our working final product at EurekaFest, which was extremely satisfying. Seeing other talented InvenTeams and their products at EurekaFest was also an amazing opportunity.”

Harpanhalli: As a part of the Dublin High School Engineering and Design Academy, students in their junior year are paired with an industry mentor and meet with them once a month throughout the year. How did your experience as a mentee influence your current course of study? What do you feel you gained from this program?

Baek: “I credit a lot of my success to my mentor, Dr. Erin Chia, [Associate Director of Business Development at Bio-Rad Laboratories in Pleasanton]. She definitely had a significant impact on my academic journey. She made me excited for the future. As a junior, I dreaded having to take the SAT, apply to colleges, and suffer through tons of AP classes. All of the stress that seemed to await me caused me to dislike talking about my future, but Erin changed that. She shared her own career journey with me and encouraged me to take high school step-by-step. Thanks to her quiet wisdom and unwavering patience, I was able to completely transform my perspective and become excited to take on college and beyond. Erin also helped me ground my dreams and aspirations in reality. She allowed me to glimpse into my future by talking about her experiences and what I could do to follow in her footsteps [as a biochemical engineer]. To this day, I consider Erin my role model, and I am so grateful to have met her through the DEDA mentorship program.”

Harpanhalli: What were some of your favorite classes/teachers at Dublin High School? What made them memorable?

Baek: “Ms. Eugene Chou is an amazing teacher and person to be around. I had the privilege of taking Principles of Engineering (POE) my sophomore year and Digital Electronics (DE) my senior year with her. I also met with her frequently during my junior year for the DEDA mentorship program and my senior year as part of the InvenTeam. Having spent so much time with her I can confidently say that she is one of the most inspirational women I have ever met. She made engineering fun and interesting, and I wish I could take her classes all over again.

“Freshman biology with Ms. Katherine Hermens will always be a class that I think back on fondly. I firmly believe that she made me fall in love with biology through her lectures and interesting labs. I’ll always remember the first time I held a micropipette in my hand during one of our labs. I was able to TA for her my senior year, and being able to interact with her in a freer environment was such a pleasant experience. I’ll always think of her when I think of Dublin High.

“Last but definitely not least, AP Physics with Mrs. Katina Lewis was the most rigorous yet exciting class of my high school career. She might be intimidating at first, but you quickly learn that she is extremely dedicated to all of her students and has your best interests in mind. Physics can be really difficult for students to grasp, but she somehow made learning it enjoyable. She is an amazing woman and I am jealous of the students that get to experience her teaching year after year.”

At the Dublin High School 2018 Senior Awards Night, Joanne Baek received the President’s Gold Award for Educational Excellence, California Scholarship Federation Life Member, and GAEL Scholar awards. She was also recognized as a Dublin Rotary Student of the Month, and received the DEDA Scholarship, SWE Mt. Diablo Scholarship, and Dave Burton Memorial Scholarship.


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