Graduate Student Profile: Priscille Koutouan

Did you know that many of today’s healthcare problems are being solved with math and engineering? Priscille Koutouan discovered this fact while working on undergraduate research. When she was young, Koutouan knew that she wanted to be either a surgeon or an engineer. “I wanted to help people through pursuing medicine, but I also had a passion for mathematics, physics, and other similar areas and wanted to use those in an advanced manner to solve problems,” Koutouan reflected. Her mother, who is an electrical and mechanical engineer, was the inspiration for her decision to pursue engineering. “She has always been this example for what I can achieve as a woman in engineering, so studying to become an engineer has always been an option,” shared Koutouan.

Koutouan began her college career studying petroleum engineering at the University of Houston. During her junior year, she participated in a summer research experience project with her mentor, Dr. Taewoo Lee. They worked on streamlining treatment planning for prostate cancer patients using an inverse optimization technique. It was at that moment that she saw the opportunity to combine her passion for engineering and desire to help others through healthcare. She explains, “I didn’t know before about the variety of problems in healthcare that could be improved using engineering techniques. I thought I could only make a difference in people’s lives if I was a physician.” This experience showed her that there were many ways to help improve people’s lives as an engineer.

Dr. Taewoo Lee guided Koutouan to NC State, where she would meet professors Maria Mayorga and Julie Ivy in the health systems engineering concentration. Their research covers areas of healthcare that Koutouan could see herself doing in the future. Along with the research, she enjoys the NC State program. “Every student I meet is very driven and the professors make themselves available for you if needed and are very encouraging,” said Koutouan. “It is a great environment to work in, especially when things become challenging.”

Koutouan loves being in the middle of a campus where people come from different cultures and backgrounds. “It is almost like getting a glance at the world without traveling,” she remarked. She enjoys serving with Chi Alpha Christian fellowship on campus and is a Bible study group leader. She also likes reading and spending time with friends when not focusing on academics.

Although Koutouan has kept her plans for after graduation open, she does have an idea about where she would like to work. “I am interested in working with the Center for Disease Control, hospitals or other companies that have a research focus on applying models to solve some medical questions or improve a health-related system,” speculated Koutouan. “But, then again, I just finished my first year, so who knows, I might want to stay in academia when it’s all finished.”