Thursday, September 8, 2011

Student Innovators make their mark at the Sheikh Zayed Institute

Guest post by Martha Houle, PhD, Education Director, the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation

On August 3rd, our first class of Student Innovators presented the results of their eight weeks of work to faculty and staff at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. Working closely with their mentors, they studied topics such as “Alloimmunization in Sickle Cell Disease” in the biological sciences, explored a new design for a “Laparoscopic Needle Driver for Pediatric Surgery,” and contributed to “Developing a Quantitative Measure of Craniosynostosis.”

(Photo, right: Student Innovators learn about biomedical innovation from Institute faculty)
These nine college and graduate students learned new engineering software and new laboratory techniques, and began to develop an understanding of the complexities of innovation by doing their first literature and patent searches. And, as Kay-Anne, a recent biology graduate from Howard University, put it, they learned that research means that “there are no right or wrong answers, just the process and journey taken to provide a feasible solution.”

The Student Innovators program was born out of a desire to provide a different kind of learning opportunity to young people—one that would inspire them to enter the field of biomedical innovation. In addition to engaging in hands-on work on defined research projects within the Sheikh Zayed Institute, the students participated in a curriculum that included training in brainstorming, teamwork, intellectual property, and presentation skills.

Daniel, a George Washington University medical student, told us at the end of the program how much he loved “how friendly, accepting, and eager to help everyone has been here at the Sheikh Zayed Institute. There has never been an opportunity out of reach or a closed door. The doctors were excited to further my interest and never hesitated to offer their experience.” Rachel, a biochemistry graduate student from the University of Tulsa, adds that, “This program exposed me to many interesting and unique experiences, including observing surgery, shadowing a radiologist, learning about engineering technology, and pursuing my own project in immunology.”

Usman, an engineering graduate student at the University of Illinois, Urbana, summarizes some of our goals for the program in its first year: “From the technical aspect, the program helped me sharpen my programming skills and understand some new concepts regarding applied engineering. Professionally, I have gained a lot because it enabled me to learn resource-handling, team-building, knowledge-sharing, and collaborating. The experience I gained here has provided a stepping stone for my overall career goals.”

It is difficult to say, however, who gained the most--the students or the Sheikh Zayed Institute. While many of the students thanked us for a program that helped them define the next steps in their studies and careers, we are also grateful to all of them for their energy and enthusiasm and for their focused and intelligent contributions to the success of Sheikh Zayed Institute’s mission.

--Martha Houle