Onal named a 2022 Knight of St. Patrick, top engineering student honor


Huan Song

Bioengineering senior <strong>Ege Gungor Onal&nbsp;</strong>
Bioengineering senior Ege Gungor Onal 

Bioengineering senior Ege Gungor Onal was among the nine students selected as 2022 Knights of St. Patrick, a Grainger Engineering distinction that recognizes leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contributions to the college and its students.  

Onal has been an active member of the campus community through his research and extracurricular engagements. As a Cancer Scholar and the co-founder and president of the Cancer Center at Illinois Student Organization (CCIL-SO), he has been actively conducting research since his freshmen year. Starting  in professor Brian T. Cunningham’s lab to study point-of-care diagnostics for the early detection of cancer biomarkers, he has interned at Koc University’s Brain Cancer Research Lab, and taken part in the Mayo Clinic Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. His research efforts have led to multiple publications.

“Throughout my undergraduate career at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I have been indebted to many brilliant mentors. Therefore, one of my goals is to give back by guiding other students in their academic journeys,” said Onal. 

To share his research experience with fellow students, Onal has been an active member and mentor for the Cancer Scholars program and a co-facilitator of Mayo Clinic SURF - having spent multiple summers working in different labs under the program, working with Dr. Kathryn A. Knoop on developing a theoretical mouse model study to investigate the gut microbiome's role in CAR-T cell therapy toxicity, Dr. Venkatesh R. Bellamkonda, to investigate sex-based disparities in healthcare delivery, and Dr. Michael F. Romero to study the role of Ano4 in calcium oxalate stone formation using drosophila models.

Onal is passionate about creating a supportive educational environment for his peers and younger students, especially having a unique perspective as an international student. 

He said, “when I first came to campus, I felt very lonely. Perhaps it was my most difficult year in college, but I learned so many things. As I made new friends and adapted to life in the United States, I felt better in the coming years.” These feelings of loneliness resurfaced during the pandemic, which led to him co-founding COVID-Pals.com. This platform offered online peer support for students when they felt the stress and isolation of COVID-19. In addition, he pursued a sociology research project with Brain O’ Neill, a graduate candidate in sociology, on COVID-19’s psychological and sociological impacts. His completed manuscript was accepted for journal publication.

He also served as an Engineering Learning Assistant (2020), a Lead Engineering Learning Assistant (2021) for Grainger Engineering First-Year Experience (GFX) and was one of the lab assistants for the BIOE 202 laboratory course to teach students cell and tissue engineering fundamentals. Beyond engineering, Onal is the vice president of the Turkish Student Association and has been named the first Ronald H. Filler Scholar through of Cancer Center at Illinois. 

He is currently working in professor Andrew. M. Smith’s Laboratory pursuing a senior thesis on detecting prostate cancer biomarkers in patient blood samples. "After graduation, I hope to utilize the education and experiences I gained as an engineering student to nurture an innovative mindset that combines multiple disciplines to generate diagnostic and therapeutic solutions for cancer research.”