Eliza Zita Coleto, Conservation + Innovation ’24 (BioE): “I want to create ground-breaking innovative solutions for medical devices.”

On human-centered design, learning something new, and thinking “constellationally”

Fung Fellowship
7 min readMar 8, 2024

Eliza Zita Coleto came to UC Berkeley with the intention of saving lives. Though their parents hoped they would do so as a doctor, the years of medical school the job required prompted Eliza to pivot to engineering, a profession where they could work behind the scenes in pursuit of the same goal. Now a bioengineering student and a Fung Fellow, Eliza strives to innovate and improve biomedical devices using human-centered design.

This is their story.

Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?

My name is Eliza, they/she pronouns! I am a Filipino American third-year undergraduate studying Bioengineering, minoring in Ethnic Studies, and pursuing a certificate track in Asian American Community Health (CAACH) at UC Berkeley. I am rooted in two hometowns: Tracy, CA and Stockton, CA. I was born and raised in the 209, the Central Valley, and the home with the best taco trucks in California.

What interests you about human-centered biomedical design?

This phrase is my way of intertwining my areas of interest: human-centered design and biomedical devices. Biomedical devices — or any product used by a wider audience — should be first and foremost patient-focused and user-centered, especially when folks are creating innovative solutions that will directly impact a physical body and save lives!

I’m always curious about the next innovative medical device and how to improve existing medical devices. For instance, how might we create minimally invasive devices to treat patients with cardiovascular disease? How might we improve the efficiency of existing devices to identify and suppress incoming epilepsy?

What led you to apply and join the Fung Fellowship? Why the Conservation + Innovation track specifically?

I learned about the Fung Fellowship from past fellows and loved the values and work of the Fung Fellowship. I first applied for the Health + Innovation track but was rejected! A month or two later, I saw that more applications for the Conservation + Innovation track had opened up, and I thought: “Why not try applying again? Maybe I can learn something new.”

I already had previous knowledge of environmental justice and how engineering is intertwined with the environment, and I thought it would be exciting to learn more. So, I applied again and took a different application direction than the initial applicants (I had to send in a Design Challenge video and recorded it while I was on summer vacation in Seattle, haha), and it led me to where I am today as a Conservation + Innovation Fellow.

Each semester, fellows take on a design project. What did you take away from your work with Castlemont High School last semester?

Reflecting on last semester’s collaboration with Castlemont High School and Civic Design Studio in Oakland, I learned that having a team full of diverse backgrounds allows us to create the best, most innovative ideas. Our design challenge was to answer the question:

“How might we enhance Castlemont High School’s Farm and Gardens, FabLab, and surrounding areas with new, innovative student engagement strategies?”

Our team’s solution was called “FarmQuest,” a device that printed out randomized activities for students and community members to interact with Castlemont’s farm! These activities ranged from scavenger hunts around the farm to environmental education. My contribution to the team was the hardware design of our device; I modeled the design in SolidWorks and then 3D-printed our prototype in the Jacobs Makerspace. I integrated basic circuitry to create a prototype with buttons that, when pushed, would print out the activity.

What are you hoping to learn from your project this semester?

This semester, my team is working with Blue Endeavors to create hardware and software specifications for a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) & Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) for underwater photogrammetry. Oceanography is largely undiscovered due to dangers and safety hazards for deep-dive ocean divers. Additionally, data gathered by researchers and organizations are usually kept private, despite this data being essential to scale underwater surveying of kelp forests, coral reefs, and indicator species.

We are working towards solutions to advance marine conservation solutions, technology for deep-divers, and oceanography data in a way that makes them more standardized and accessible to researchers, conservationists, decision-makers in the marine industry, and general community members. I am hoping to apply all of the design and product management skills from last semester and learn more about the intersection between marine conservation and technology in our communities.

Is there something you are currently working on, either in or outside of the fellowship that you would like to share?

I’m currently in the Bioprinting @ Berkeley club under the Prosthetic Arm Team, where we’ve been rapid prototyping and iterating over our design of a prosthetic arm! We’re a team composed of BioE, MechE, and EECS undergraduates. This semester, I am the Lead Design Engineer, where I spearhead the design aspect and make executive decisions about the design process of our prosthetic arm using Onshape, a cloud-based Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program. I work very closely with team members and our project managers to ensure a smooth flow from design ideation to our physical prototype. We’re hoping to complete our final prosthetic arm prototype at the end of the semester and showcase it at the Jacobs Spring 2024 Design Showcase!

What are your professional goals or aspirations?

I intend to work in the medical device industry as an R&D Engineer or Manufacturing Engineer! I thrive when working in collaborative settings, so I want to be in a professional space where I can design, manufacture, and prototype with diverse engineers.

From learning human-centered design frameworks and product management skills in the Fung Fellowship, I want to apply all my skills to the industry to create ground-breaking innovative solutions for medical devices while maintaining a good work-life balance.

As for graduate school, I am considering doing a Masters of Engineering in Bioengineering but have not fully decided if I want to apply, so I’m still simmering on the idea!

What are some of your non-academic hobbies/passions, and how, if at all, have they inspired your professional goals?

Since my first year at Berkeley, I have been heavily involved in the Berkeley Dance Community (BDC) and Berkeley’s Pilipinx community! In BDC, I love to choreograph open-style dance and learn hip-hop dance fundamentals from Bay Area choreographers. In the Pilipinx community, I love to learn and educate others about Philippine and Filipino American history and culture.

The combination of my love for dance and Filipino culture can be most closely found in the annual Pilipinx Cultural Night (PCN), hosted by one of the Filipino organizations at UC Berkeley, Pilipinx American Alliance (PAA). PCN is a full-scale performing arts, student-led production immersed in Filipino culture, politics, and history. Many West Coast universities and their Filipino organizations produce their respective PCNs every spring. Last year, I was responsible for choreographing and staging Philippine cultural dances in the production. This year, on its 48th iteration, I am one of the writers for the production’s script. As we graciously prepare for our production in late April, I am beyond excited to see our words come to life onstage! You can learn more about us at https://ucbpcn.com/ or our Instagram, @paapcn.

My non-academic passions might not have directly influenced my professional goals, but my passions have grounded me as a person navigating my early 20s. I can confidently say that I am grounded in my Filipino identity and my passion for dance. With my strong leadership skills that have continuously refined over time as a BDC member and Pilipinx community member, being able to apply these skills in my professional career won’t be a problem for me.

Fun fact or favorite quote (or both):

My favorite quote, “Thinking constellationally” by Teju Cole, comes from my all-time favorite class at UC Berkeley: Engineering, Environment, and Society (ENGIN 157AC) with Professor Khalid Kadir, which I took in Spring 2022!

“Thinking constellationally” is a collectivist, multi-dimensional framework that creates an interconnected context of our world by making connections where they seemingly do not exist. We can intersect social, environmental, and economic justice issues by thinking constellationally and being interconnected. For instance, we can see how imperialism is an environmental justice issue when it comes to corporations participating in land dispossession or producing toxic chemicals that contribute to pollution and climate change. We can create a broader perspective about how power, privilege, and oppression play into our societies with this framework.

I will always think constellationally in all of my work because how can we advance as a community or larger society without a collectivist framework to tackle structural and systematic oppression? Being driven by love, revolutionary hope, community care, and the ability to think constellationally made me realize that to stand up to injustice, we must do so by 1) realizing we are all connected, and 2) practicing love and collectivism in our communities.

Learn more about Eliza, their project portfolio, and their passions at https://www.elizacoleto.com/.

Connect with Eliza.

Edited by Veronica Roseborough.



Fung Fellowship

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