On Leadership, Lifelong Friends, and A Love of Snow

Halfway through 2020, it feels as though America has already confronted a decade’s worth of strife: a deadly pandemic, bitter polarization in politics, and nationwide protests to speak out against anti-Black racism and violence.

Yet there is hope for a brighter future. It comes from smart and ambitious people of all ages and races and backgrounds, old and young alike. Especially the young.

At Santa Clara University, the Class of 2020 recognizes the critical part they will play in our future. Filled with the confidence of all they have achieved and who they have become at SCU, they carry with them the promise of creating a kinder, better, and more just world.

David Diebold ’20 is one example.

As the son of two U.S. Army medical doctors, Diebold is following in his parents’ footsteps—and then some. At Santa Clara, he found a perfect fit for his interests, majoring in bioengineering, with a minor in pre-med. During a Global Fellows Internship in Ghana last summer, he split his time between working in a medical hospital, and then with an NGO to help develop a locally sourced ready-to-use therapeutic food formula for malnourished children.

But the Hawaiian native, a seasoned EMS leader on campus, is also about innovation and product development, and has spent the past three years working in Associate Professor Bill Lu’s bioengineering research lab working on a project to create advanced cancer therapeutics using human derived nanotechnology.

Below, we talked with Diebold about what Santa Clara has meant to him.

What was your favorite class at SCU?
My Ethics in Healthcare course taught by Brian Buckley. It was a quintessential SCU class, really cool and very Jesuit. The main take-away was the intentionality behind all your actions in a clinical setting. We talked about things like informed consent and why, deep down, are you doing that? Is it just so you can check off a box to make sure you’re not sued, or because you really want the patient to be fully informed?

Who were your favorite professors or mentors at SCU?
Father Rob Scholla. I first met him during my orientation through his role as faculty director of Sobrato Hall. Then, almost a year later, he helped me welcome other students onto campus when I became an Orientation Leader. He has even gotten to know me in an academic setting with some of the courses I have taken with him. He is the common thread throughout my SCU experience. He’s an incredible guy and has been a great source of support along the way.

What’s the most excited you’ve been in the last four years?
Can I say two things? In my freshman year, I went on a trip to Crater Lake in the winter quarter, and it was the first time I had ever been in snow. I had only seen snow on TV and was always obsessed with it as a kid. I loved it!
The other experience was being an exchange student in Sweden in the fall quarter of my junior year. (More snow!) It was the only direct exchange program that was most compatible with engineering. And I really wanted to immerse myself in a local culture.

David at an EMS drill on campus last spring.
David at EMS drill on campus last spring.

What was your favorite club/event or extracurricular at Santa Clara?
The Emergency Medical Services program at SCU. It’s a volunteer student-run program—there’s lots of pre-med students. You usually work one night a week in Cowell Center, and I got really close to the people I met and interacted with. It also helped me develop leadership skills.

How would you describe yourself when you walked on campus for the first time?
Absolutely terrified. I grew up on an island with 500,000 people on it. There were so many new things here and in the Bay Area, and , and I wondered: How will I fit in?

How would you describe yourself now?
Santa Clara is home for me. It’s been an amazing past four years and I’ve made some absolutely incredible friends.

In what ways have you grown over the past four years?
SCU has really allowed me to explore everything I’m interested in. Just being an engineering major, and all these different, holistic educational courses, has really helped me become the person I am today. Through SCU, I feel that I have become more confident, compassionate, and conscious in my everyday life.

What advice would you give your freshman self?
I would definitely say: be open to new opportunities and always say yes. That’s been a big source of my entire growth here.

What GIF or meme best sums up your time at SCU?
I don’t follow that stuff much, but over the past few months, during shelter-in-place, I’ve definitely had time to watch some stuff like the entire ‘Star Wars’ series again and watch the development of Luke Skywalker from being an immature whining brat into a confident hero. But, I’m not saying that’s me….

A fan of Luke Skywalker.
A fan of Luke Skywalker.

What’s something you didn’t know about yourself when you got here that you do now?
My flexibility. Coming from such a diverse place as Hawaii, I think I have the ability to get along with a wide range of people. And it’s something I have applied throughout my time at SCU.

What was your favorite time working on a team at SCU?
Working as a veteran Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) shift leader over the past two years. It means you’re the main point person who helps with leadership development, and it’s a great way of getting to know everyone a lot better.

What’s next for you?
I have an opportunity to work in a medical research lab. I plan to take the MCAT next year.

Where do you want to be in five years?
Two paths: Medical school and/or product management at an engineering company. Even if I become a physician, I want to keep that innovation and product development side of me. I really like bringing people together to work on unique projects and trying to create interesting products that help others. That seems awesome to me.

How did Santa Clara prepare you to get there?
I’m really interested in entrepreneurship and how innovation applies to the medical devices space. I was the vice president of the Biomedical Engineering Society at SCU. And with a few other students we established a bioinnovation and design club to try to help students think creatively.

What’s one item that you think represents your college experience or will remind you of your time here?
My EMT boots. They’re really, really beat up. They have some stains on them, and I have no idea where they are from. But they show the kinds of great journeys I have gone through and the experiences that have made me the person I am now.

David's  beat up EMT boots.
David’s beat up EMT boots.

What’s your SCU bucket list—stuff you have to do (or do again) when you come back to campus?
The first thing that comes to mind is the apartment I lived in during my freshman year. There were six of us, and three of us still live together. I’d like to have dinner with all of us together again. I think it would be a great bookend to my college experience.

Finally, any thoughts on your virtual commencement?
I don’t know if it’s hit me yet that we don’t get to say that final goodbye like we all thought we could on commencement day. It’s a big bummer. My parents are very supportive, but I think they recognize there’s a lot bigger issue going on right now. Hopefully, it will be spring of 2021 when it happens.


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