She scanned the room, saw only boys and machines and instantly decided she didn’t belong in an engineering class.
“I was definitely afraid and thought I had been placed there by accident,” said Ashley Babinchak, describing that day in middle school.
“I was a really big girly girl,” she said. “I wore a bow in my hair, did dance and wanted to be a fashion designer.”
What she remembers most about that experience nearly 10 years ago is her teacher.
“She was teaching a whole class of boys, and they all listened to her,” said Babinchak, an Honors College junior who is majoring in bioengineering. “I thought that was so cool.”
That teacher in Fort Mill, S.C. was the first in a succession of women role models in STEM careers. She was followed by many professors and peers at Clemson in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, as well as the University at large.
Babinchak arrived at Clemson with an interest in biology and engineering, as well as the drive, resilience and attitude to be successful. Clemson provided the knowledge, opportunities and mentors to help her discover her strengths and identify her ultimate career goal: medical device sales.
She recently accepted a summer internship with Arthrex, a global medical device company that develops products and procedures to advance minimally invasive orthopedics. She’ll be a Sterilization and Biosafety intern at the company’s headquarters in Naples, Fla.
The Seeds of Sales
One of the first hints for Babinchak’s career path came after what some might call a failure.
She had applied, but was not selected, to be a counselor for the Honors College undergraduate research program EUREKA!.
Instead of being discouraged, she approached the program director and pitched an idea.
“I was stunned when Ashley responded to my hiring decision with ‘even though I won’t be a counselor, please let me know if there’s any way I can be helpful to you or the EUREKA! program this summer,’” said Susan Falendysz, the EUREKA! program director and Honors College admissions manager.
Babinchak had participated in the program the previous summer. She wanted to help promote it by creating posts on social media.
“I knew Ashley had so much enthusiasm and social media expertise, so I didn’t hesitate to take her up on that offer,” Falendysz said.
Babinchak gathered information from program alumni and research faculty about their EUREKA! experience and planned weekly marketing Instagram posts for the months leading up to the program’s launch.
That experience helped her realize she enjoyed communicating with people and helping them understand the value of the program.
“I didn’t realize it was marketing,” she said.
Not Afraid to Fail
Babinchak credits her success, in part, to her willingness to fail. It’s a trait her parents, both Clemson graduates, instilled in her.
“My attitude has always been to embrace failure as an opportunity for growth; my Clemson journey has been incredibly fulfilling because of that,” Babinchak said. “I apply to a lot of things and just don’t get them.”
In her first year, she also applied to summer programs for undergraduate research, known as Research Experiences for Undergraduates REUs.
“I applied to five summer programs, and I was rejected from all of them, except the one I got at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.” She knew no one in Lincoln, Nebraska, but she lived there for 10 weeks. As part of the program, she researched the use of stem cells and gene therapy to treat Alzheimer’s.
The Nebraska experience gave her a peek into graduate school research, and she entered her sophomore year thinking she would pursue a master’s or Ph.D.
But that year she took several courses that involved team building activities as part of LEAD Forward, a leadership program for engineers offered by the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
She learned she enjoyed roles that allowed her to engage with people, so she applied to be a Bioengineering Department ambasssador. During the interview for that role, Babinchak was asked about her career goals after graduation.
“I knew I needed a straight answer for this question because I really wanted this position, but I couldn’t think of what to say.”
She responded with an honest, but roundabout answer. “I don’t know if this job exists, but I’d like to show a company’s new medical device to doctors, explaining how to use it,” she told them. “I could design them, but I know I am better at the explaining side.”
They told her about medical device sales, a career several of them were pursuing.
Babinchak visited the department’s professional development coordinator, who helped her identify Clemson alumni at companies such as Arthrex, Abbott, and Stryker, and she reached out to them. Based on the advice from those conversations with alumni, Babinchak decided to pursue a minor in business administration.
She has also met industry leaders as part of her coursework. This semester a representative from Arthrex spoke to her marketing class the same day that she had an interview with the company for her internship.
The marketing class, Professional Selling, is a prerequisite to the Sales Innovation Program, which Babinchak is applying to this Spring. Founded in 2019 within the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business, the program focuses on being a nationally renowned resource for sales education, sales research and valuable academic partnerships.
Such opportunities provide students with a competitive advantage, LaBerge said. “In the med tech industry, marketability is largely driven by experiences outside the classroom, engagement and leadership,” she said.
She’s a legacy, but Babinchak chose Clemson because of her first-hand experience of personal attention.
One of the first people Babinchak met on campus was Cassidy Barringer, who was a student ambassador. Barringer has since graduated from Clemson with a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering.
There were no official department tours the day of Babinchak’s visit, so Barringer gave her a personal tour. She even arranged a lab visit where Babinchak watched students vacuum pig cells.
“That personal attention was a huge factor,” Babinchak said about her decision to attend Clemson. At the end of the tour, she and her parents sat down with the Bioengineering Department Chair Martine LaBerge.
“If it wasn’t for Dr. LaBerge, I might not have even come to Clemson,” Babinchak said. “We talked about BioE, Clemson and choosing a college. Even being able to have a conversation with the department chair for a prospective student (not even committed to Clemson at the time) was huge for me and a great example of putting the “Clemson family” into action.”
She has embraced the Clemson Family by nurturing relationships with faculty, staff, other students and alumni.
Even after she completed her work with EUREKA!, Babinchak met with Falendysz regularly. She asked her opinion about REU applications, sent her email updates from Nebraska, and shared stories from her experience once she returned to campus.
“It means so much to me that Ashley follows up with me regularly to let me know about her next amazing adventure,” Falendysz said.
Mentee becomes Mentor
This year Babinchak spends a lot of time engaging and leading students — whether she’s organizing a Welcome Back Festival or representing the department on its Student Advisory Council.
She also works at the Honors College, where she is often the first point of contact for prospective students and families.
“Ashley is professional and positive and is loaded with direct experience concerning the benefits of the Honors College,” Falendysz said.
She’s looking forward to when she can give in-person tours of the Bioengineering Department and will serve as Lead Ambassador next year.
In that role, she’ll coordinate the ambassador tours and provide personal tours, the type she attended as a high school student.
Barringer, who was also the Lead Ambassador, said she could have predicted that Babinchak would serve in that position.
“I could tell Ashley would go out of her way to be helpful, ask for opportunities, and give up personal time for our tour guests without a second thought,” she said. “I am truly honored to have made such an impact on Ashley’s Clemson experience. Whether she knows it or not, she is making the same impact on someone else.”
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