By Andy Lohman

Megan Dell found herself on top of the largest church in the world, taking in a breathtaking view of the capital of Italy, filled with thousands of years of history and architectural wonders.
“All of a sudden you’re at the highest point in Rome and you’re looking out on the city. It was the most unintended, but best thing we did on the entire trip.”
The VCU women’s soccer senior defender and biomedical engineering student was finally getting the experience she always wanted, a three-week study abroad trip to Italy.
“I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” Dell said. “So my big thing was how am I going to fit in studying abroad into my schedule? As an engineer I can’t do it once my eligibility is up in the spring because I have to finish my senior design project, so I had to do it during the summer.”
Right after taking the Medical College Admission Test and right before coming back to get in shape for the fall season, Dell traveled to Fondi, Italy. In the coastal town in central Italy a little over an hour south of Rome, she took two courses, one in Translational Research, and one in Medical Semiotics.
“It was a medical program, which is what I wanted,” Dell said. “Everything fit together. I always say, ‘the best things in life find you.’”
In a medical context, translational research aims to translate findings from fundamental research into real-life health solutions, while semiotics is the study of diagnosing disease.
The students spent time on a range of topics, from learning about the background of the diseases being studied, to learning how to write research papers for grant proposals.
When not in the classroom, Dell was getting hands-on experience with patients, listening to heart murmurs and arrhythmias, and performing physical exams.
“Growing up I wanted to be a doctor. I broke a lot of bones and saw a lot of ER rooms,” Dell said on how she chose the biomedical engineering path. “Math is my strong suit, but I also liked biology. After AP Bio [in high school] I was like ‘I can’t take this class 20 different times.’ At the same time, Calculus was easy for me. So I combined the two.”
Biomedical engineering is the application of engineering, technology and scientific concepts, to solve biomedical problems and engineering challenges. Dell, an honors student, is applying to attend medical school after she completes her undergrad degree.
In addition to developing in the classroom, Dell developed a sense of independence while she was abroad.
“I’ve always been an independent person, but I actually did things independently,” Dell said. “I had to get myself from Rome to Fondi because I didn’t come at the same time as other people. Just walking around, or running around, a foreign town you have to be able to get yourself home.”
Perhaps most importantly, Dell reinforced her love for medicine.
“Just learning how much I truly enjoyed learning about medical things,” Dell said. “In engineering we do a whole lot of math and theory, but in our classes we were learning about actual diseases: what they look like, how they present, causes, what are similar ones that could confuse you about what they actually have.”
“Actually being able to touch patients and listen to the stethoscope, it made me truly know for sure that I wanted to do medicine.”
While a great, immersive experience, Dell’s trip was not without some challenges in adjusting to a new culture.
“It’s very different. Siesta is very important,” Dell said. “It was very tough to do what we were doing because we had class from 10 until 1, then from 4 to 5, then we had homework and then dinner is at 10. After that you’re out in the square until 12 or 1 [in the morning]. So there was very little sleep.”
The incredible view of the city of Rome that stood out to Dell came from a last-minute decision to visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
“It was like 5:30 and it closed at 6, so we decided to go up to the dome because we hadn’t paid for much that day and had some pocket change,” Dell said.
The plan was to go up in the dome, look at the Basilica from the top, then leave.
“You could tell it was almost six o’clock because the guards started pushing you out,” Dell said. We followed the signs that said ‘exit this way’, only we were going up. We actually ended up walking in between the inner dome that you can see from inside the Basilica and the outer dome of the roof. We ended up on top of the Basilica looking out over the city. It was a complete surprise; we had no idea we were doing this.”
Overall, the defender returned to the States after her trip with a renewed perspective on her field and life.
“It’s definitely worth it,” Dell said. “Coming from an engineering perspective, medicine is always changing. Seeing how it’s actually different in other places, and can be different and can be changed and improved if the other way is better is very interesting. It makes you not set in your ways.”
The experience had a profound impact on Dell, and she now encourages other student-athletes to take advantage of it if they can.
“If you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it.”
Dell and the Rams open the season by hosting Iowa on Friday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. at Sports Backers Stadium.