When Rita Matta heard the news, she cried for hours.
The relief was that intense.
Matta ’16 (ENG) had just been told she would be getting a scholarship from UConn alum Russ St. John to help pay for her senior year at UConn.
After spending three years juggling babysitting and tutoring jobs, Matta felt the pressure melt away.
“I was concerned about paying for my next year of college. It was a huge relief to me,” she said. “I remember calling my mom and crying for hours.”
Matta’s mother had been diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer. Besides the emotional drain of dealing with the disease, the family was swamped with medical bills.
The scholarship relieved the pressure on her then and is still making an impact today. It’s allowed Matta, 22, to continue her education and pursue a career in biomedical engineering that will likely save lives.
Now, as a doctoral student at Yale, Matta is helping to develop a minimally invasive, innovative treatment that could help stroke victims recover.
She decided to pursue bioengineering as a career field because she had been impressed that a robot was used to perform the cancer surgery on her mother.
“It was performed so accurately,” she said. “She had little to no scar tissue. That was really awesome to me because I had no exposure to or any knowledge of robotic technology before that,” she said.
Articulate, serious, and driven, Matta feels lucky to be chosen as a doctoral student to work on this innovative stroke treatment. She is humble, but to anyone who knows her, there’s no denying that she’s proved herself more than worthy. She’s an academic powerhouse who works extremely hard and has an insatiable scientific curiosity.
Her supervisor and mentor at Yale describes her as open-minded, persistent, and willing to take a risk.
“Scientifically and also personality-wise, she is very kind and engaging,” said Anjelica Gonzalez, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Yale. “She has an excitement and enthusiasm to learn about science and she is willing to challenge paradigms.”
Matta attributes her success to her family’s deep-seated appreciation of education. Her mother and aunts and uncles all are immigrants from war-torn Beirut who successfully graduated from college.
“I have a hard time saying no,” Matta said. “I set high standards for myself and for my work. It’s just the way that I was raised—to keep aiming for the best and not settling for anything but my full effort.”
Life has turned the corner for her mother, too. She is in remission and Matta has a new hope. Inspired by St. John, ’80 (ENG), ’85 MBA, she hopes to one day pay it forward and help another UConn student further their education.
Meanwhile, she is helping in another way. She volunteers for an outreach program that encourages middle-school-aged girls in the New Haven region to enter STEM careers. When it comes to giving back, there’s no doubt she’s just getting started.