A Basketball Injury Ended Lauren Reny’s Sports Career but Provided a Path to Leadership

Photo by Joe Johnston

Lauren Reny heard a pop in her knee and thought, That’s not normal. 

The guard with the Christian Village High School basketball team had collided with another player during a tight regular season game, sending the Los Angeles resident to the floor, writhing in pain. When she was carried off the court, it marked the last time she would appear in a varsity game.

“I was pretty over it at that point,” she said.

While the torn ACL ended her basketball career, her subsequent surgery made her consider studying biomedical engineering in college. And now another big change – becoming president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Cal Poly – has made her refine her goals even further.

“My role in SHPE has made me learn more entrepreneur skills and public speaking,” she said. 

While her high school team finished 26-9 the year she was hurt, Reny began to focus on what her career might be, her own recovery prompting her to consider orthopedics and product development.

“I think it gave her some insights on biomechanics, understanding her injury, as well as anytime that you have to overcome an injury like that it takes persistence to recover,” said Michael Whitt, an assistant professor who is Reny’s senior project advisor.

She chose Cal Poly because it felt smaller than some of the others she was considering.  And during her freshman year, she became involved with SHPE, becoming secretary.

“We have a lot of the same life experiences,” she said of her fellow SHPE members. “So it felt like a sense of community and family.”

Eventually, she considered running for president, but it seemed like a leap from secretary. So she briefly went home to seek counsel.

“My mom was always a good source for encouragement,” she said. “She said, ‘You’ve got to do it.’”

“Lauren is a great leader of people,” Whitt said. “She is smart but genuinely cares about people. I think that her leadership responsibilities with SHPE have helped her see her own leadership potential.”

That leadership role, plus a summer internship with Amazon, made her think more about the business side of biomedical engineering. Whitt, who has an MBA and startup experience, encouraged her to look into a capstone project at University of Notre Dame, where students develop a commercialization plan for a technology.

“I think that understanding the business side is very important for young engineers,” said Whitt, who previously taught at Notre Dame’s business school, where he supervised all of the graduate engineering students in development of their commercialization plans. “Understanding the importance of equity and ownership as a biomedical engineer is very important. If we can create more owners, we have more perspectives that can be heard with respect to problem solving.”

Meanwhile, Reny is working on her senior project, which also relates to a common sports injury. 

“My senior project is a knotless suture anchor, which is used in rotator cuff surgery,” she said. “We’re working with a doctor from Duke University, who is the head of surgery for head and shoulders there.”


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