Roan reflects, “When I arrived at UC CEAS, I was about as non-traditional of a student you could get—at the time, I was one of the few females enrolled in the doctoral mechanical engineering program and I was also pregnant with our first son. I remember taking the fundamental PhD engineering exam, which covers 6 topics over a span of two 3-hour days, on a Monday and Wednesday, and then I went into labor!”
She states her advisor, Dr. Kumar Vemaganti, Dr. Urmila Ghia, and Dean Teik C. Lim, who was the mechanical engineering department head at the time, were very accepting and supportive of her.
She affirms, “Dr. Vemaganti, Dr. Lim, and my fellow classmates were truly phenomenal to work with. My friends and I would always be studying in Rhodes hall, we had such a comradery and the conversation was always great. I will forever cherish those memories. I’m actually still friends with everyone from my cohort!”
Roan accredits her time at UC to sparking her initial passion for biomed innovation. “I applied Dr. Vemaganti’s mathematical and theoretical approaches to my healthcare-related research. I worked closely with the biomedical department for four years in the area of soft tissue mechanics that would allow to expand the reach of elastography. We were measuring the stiffness in liver tissue more accurately to help detect diseases.”
Upon graduating from UC in 2007, Roan accepted a mechanical and biomedical engineering joint faculty appointment at the University of Memphis. She started as a research professor and quickly rose the ranks to tenure.
When the opportunity unfolded to kick-start SOMAVAC with Herwig, who was one of her master’s students at the time, Roan took it.
“While the University of Memphis has been nothing but supportive and I am extremely grateful to be tenured, I could see the potential in practicing engineering. So, I broke the chain and co-founded SOMAVAC,” Roan.
Thanks to the generous backing of private investors and the ZeroTo510 accelerator, the partners hit the ground running.
Roan says her time in academia greatly prepared her for entrepreneurialism as running a research lab, finding grants, and working within a budget is much like being a small business owner.
She hasn’t had any doubt or regrets since day one; “I wanted to work on real problems that I could relate to and could impact society. I find the entrepreneurial path to be fun, fulfilling and also quite challenging. But I’m glad my medical device company has a purpose and I’m afforded the opportunity to make impact patients’ lives better every single day.”
As she continues to accumulate achievements out in industry, Roan maintains her role as an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Memphis, where she strongly advocates for the inclusion, retention and success of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
She addresses, “Although the number of female engineering graduates is indeed on the rise, it’s been estimated that nearly 40% of women who earn engineering degrees either quit or never enter the profession. Forty percent. It’s heartbreaking! But I remain steadfast in my efforts and try to give hope to my fellow female engineers—I always tell them, ‘nothing has to be linear, your career can be as zig-zagged as you wish, take as many turns as you wish!’”
Recounting her own zig-zag path, Roan couldn’t be more thankful for the direction which her life and her career have taken.
“I have to give a shoutout to my business partner, Josh. And also a huge thanks to my husband, Stephen—we married immediately after undergrad 1998 and he has been nothing short of phenomenal. Stephen and my two sons, Ben and Emre, are so supportive, sharing all of the burdens with me. Without them, this would not be at all possible.”
And if she could give future students and engineers any words of advice, Roan would say:
“You can never truly know where your life will take you or where your career will go, but you mustn’t be afraid to make changes. Just try to always have a plan and you will never be defeated.”
Please be sure to support your fellow Bearcat, Dr. Roan, by following SOMAVAC Medical Solutions on Facebook and Twitter, or contact her at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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