As the second oldest of six children, Sophia Soehnlen always felt like a natural caretaker. From a young age, she knew that she wanted to become a physician and continue helping others.
“I felt like it was a natural fit for me, just from how I grew up in a big family and always taking care of my siblings,” Soehnlen said.
Although Soehnlen knew what she wanted to do in the future, how she was going to get there wasn’t so certain — until a tough time for her family sparked her interest in a new path that combined engineering and medicine.
When her uncle suffered a severe stroke when he was 42 years old, Soehnlen’s family collaborated to find ways to modify and build equipment that allowed her uncle to return to normal, daily life.
“I started to see a whole different aspect of patient care than I was used to or had in mind,” Soehnlen said. What really inspired me to go into bioengineering was seeing my family serve that role for my uncle. I feel inspired to serve that role for others and I want to play a larger role in overall patient care.”
UToledo offered Soehnlen, a native of North Canton, the opportunity to combine her interests into a major in bioengineering with a pre-med focus. UToledo was also a perfect fit because its fusion of a small-school feel with big-school opportunities.
“I saw all the doors and opportunities of where I can see my future going,” Soehnlen said. “I felt confident and secure in this environment to go and open those doors, which to me was unique about UToledo. I didn’t really get that feel from other universities.”
And those doors have opened wider than Soehneln could imagine.
She has completed two semesters — with a third in progress — of cardiorenal research in Dr. David Kennedy’s lab, focusing much of her time studying kidney and heart diseases. The lab allowed her the opportunity to expand her medical knowledge, on top of her engineering curriculum.
“It was a very synonymous relationship that we both benefited from,” Soehnlen said. “He brought out our engineering perspective and supplemented his work with our perspective. We also were learning about the true medical side of bioengineering.”
Dr. Kennedy, associate professor of medicine, praises Soehnlen on her accomplishments in the lab, many of which are rare for an undergraduate student.
“Research is a team sport and Sophia is a wonderful, engaged, helpful and caring member of our team,” Kennedy said. “In addition to her intensive bioengineering studies, she has managed to help drive several research projects in the lab which have already resulted in two publications and six presentations at national meetings.”
Soehnlen also completed a clinical experience with UTMC orthopaedic surgeon Dr. David Sohn, shadowing him during patient visits and in the operating room. This was the first time she got to act in the role that she grew up wanting to become.
As someone who strives to take any opportunity that comes her way — combined with her caretaking instinct — it wasn’t a surprise when Soehnlen started volunteering at a local middle school in her free time.
Through a connection between Soehneln’s involvement in UToledo’s Engineering Leadership Institute and Jefferson Junior High, she serves as a mentor to students in an advanced STEM class.
“They were building a model of a city where they needed to implement new innovations,” Soehnlen said. “I would visit them every week and help them through difficult concepts but also spark some creativity within them. I would challenge them to push their innovation and their thought processes.
One student really struggled in school, and her teacher told me that she would light up every time I came into the class. Her teacher said he had never seen more genuine curiosity and drive out of her. That makes the whole teaching experience so worth it.”
This fall, Soehnlen will start classes towards her master’s degree, as she finishes her undergraduate courses and graduates in December. In the spring of 2023, she will finish her master’s degree in bioengineering and prepare for medical school.
“When you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t feel like you’re working,” Soehneln said. “It doesn’t feel stressful because you are working towards a bigger goal.
I always found myself falling back on remembering why I want to do what I want to do and remembering all the times that I was able to make an impact on someone’s life.”