Rachel Daso dreamed of becoming a doctor after seeing her mother, a pediatrician, make a difference in their Ohio hometown. But when she started conducting chemistry research in a Fordham undergraduate lab during her sophomore year, she realized her heart was elsewhere. 

“I fell in love with the research process, and I realized that you can still make an impact on people’s lives as a scientist,” said Daso, a graduating senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill who will begin a Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering at Northwestern University this fall. “You don’t have to be a physician to practice medicine and create cures for people.” 

Daso is a chemistry major and philosophy minor in the Honors Program at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She is a 2020 Clare Boothe Luce Summer Scholar who has received multiple undergraduate research grants from Fordham and tutored peers in chemistry and biology. Her research has been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals outside Fordham, including Biotechnology Journal and ACS Omega. She is also co-valedictorian of her class with a 4.0 GPA; she’ll address her classmates with a recorded speech during FCRH’s virtual diploma ceremony later this month. 

Bringing Damaged Tissues Back to Life

Over the past three years, Daso has conducted research in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine under Ipsita Banerjee, Ph.D., professor and chair of the chemistry department. Their goal is to use chemistry to help repair damaged tissues in the human body. 

“If you damage your skin, it grows back pretty fast. But there are other tissues like bones that are a lot harder to grow back,” Daso said. “I work in the field of regeneration, where we’re trying to create materials that encourage cells and tissues to grow and heal after an injury.”

Banerjee said her mentee displays all the qualities of a good scientist, especially curiosity. 

“She has that fundamental quality: ‘I want to figure this out, I want to see how this works.’ She understands the concepts, and she’s interested at the conceptual level,” Banerjee said. 

Not everything runs smoothly in the lab, however. Experimental cells have become contaminated with bacteria. A carefully curated cell culture once became unusable after miscommunication between a classmate, and the entire experiment needed to be restarted, said Daso. But when their experiments are finished and ready to share with the world, it’s an incredible feeling, she said.

Blending Abstract Science with ‘Real-World Ethical Issues’

Through her bioethics courses at Fordham, Daso said she realized that scientists need to prioritize clear, consistent communication about their research with the public. 

“That’s something Fordham has encouraged me to do through all my liberal arts classes, and I hope to bring that to the science field,” said Daso, who has co-presented her research at several national and regional conferences. “That’s how you’re going to develop the best products for people—when you can communicate with the people you’re developing a product for.”

Daso is also grateful for her philosophy minor, which encouraged her to explore her work from the perspective of people.

“I love how it incorporates analytical thinking with real-world ethical issues,” Daso said. “We need to start thinking about who we are engineering these materials for and how it can impact the social dynamics of our society.” 

A Mentor for Women in STEM

Daso grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, as the oldest of four siblings. Her parents graduated from the same Ohio university, but their eldest daughter wanted something different for herself. 

“Everyone in my family had always gone to school in Ohio, but when it came time for me to decide where to go for college, I decided I wanted to go on my own adventure and explore somewhere new for four years,” said Daso, who also played the trombone for Fordham Orchestra and Jazz at Lincoln Center. 

Ten years from now, Daso said, she hopes to become a strong female mentor in the STEM field, like the faculty mentor who first welcomed her into her lab.  

“Without Dr. Banerjee, I don’t know if I would have been able to make it in research and realize my full potential,” Daso said. “I would love to play that same role for other women in STEM.” 


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.