The Honors College prides itself on providing an interdisciplinary education that encourages the exploration of both the arts and sciences. Honors College student Shawn Ichikawa exemplifies this blend. Shawn is a third-year bioengineering major hailing from Austin, Texas, who cherishes Oregon State’s engineering program and has discovered other artistic passions during his time in Corvallis. He joined the Honors College in winter 2021 because he enjoyed the smaller class sizes and wanted to “take the path less traveled.”
Shawn works in School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Heidi Kloefkorn’s lab, which integrates non-invasive observational and analytical technologies with tissue analysis to better understand chronic diseases. This past summer, Shawn completed an internship at Oregon Health & Science University, where he researched cancer detection with e. Coli cells using exogenous c-Myc RNAs. He describes this as a critical process because cancer diagnoses currently take considerable time, which can waste valuable resources and delay treatment.
Shawn also recently traveled to France for the annual international Genetically Engineered Machine competition. This global event allows undergraduate students to collaborate in developing biological devices and promotes growth in the synthetic biology industry, with over 300 teams representing 30 countries. Shawn appreciates the opportunity to attend the largest synthetic biology conference in the world and connect with and learn from students and industry professionals across the globe. After college, he hopes to join a biotech start-up and possibly pursue a Ph.D.
Recently Shawn designed, printed and published his own artistic magazine called, Unorthodox: slow down you’re doing fine. It contains self-written poetry and photos of subjects from Corvallis, Eugene, Austin and other locations around the world . Shawn’s inspiration behind the project is in the magazine’s inside cover: “[This project] began as a simple idea of putting my photos and art into a physical form that I could relish forever. However, this idea further transpired into a magazine and into what lies before you.” He says the concept behind the magazine was to create a form of media where creatives such as himself can share their art and their stories with a sense of freedom from social media.
Shawn continues to pursue his creative side. He is currently collaborating with a friend in Atlanta who traveled internationally and gave subjects disposal cameras for a day so that they could intimately document their lives. Shawn enjoys taking a multidisciplinary approach to these projects, saying, “This is all cool for me because there’s the business aspect, the graphic design aspect, the photography aspect, the communication aspect and there’s a sociology aspect.” He is considering the possibility that his thesis will focus on his artistic work instead of his initially planned biology-related topic.
Shawn recognizes that there’s minimal academic overlap between art and bioengineering but finds joy in how they do not relate to each other. He cherishes the contrast and has created a balance between them in his everyday life. He expresses this contrast as a way of reclaiming things he gave up in the past: “Everyone at some point in their life has become distanced from something they originally wanted to do… This is kind of my way of reconnecting to that.”
Community Connections and Closing Thoughts
Despite spending his first year at Oregon State fully remote due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shawn has made the most of his college experience. Beyond his classes, research and creative projects, Shawn is an active member of the Oregon State community. From playing tennis on the tennis team to hiking to being a member of the Japanese Student Association, Shawn attempts to pursue his passions, however disconnected from each other they may be. Additionally, he works at the SLUG, the Honors College computer lab and student space. Shawn has a simple piece of advice for younger students: “[You] have the opportunity to make unlimited mistakes,” emphasizing that college is a time of self-discovery and that students have tremendous opportunities in the Honors College and broader Oregon State community to explore, engage in and discover what they both like and dislike, taking chances and even sometimes failing along the way.
Reflecting upon what unites his different interests, Shawn says, “I think that, at the end of the day, I want to help people. I don’t need to save the world, but if I can make one person’s day and help people who need help and share their stories, that’s all that matters to me.”
By Jax Richards, Student Writer, Honors College