Emma Bouwman’s interest in STEM started when she was a kid, attending a summer camp called, Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs- a week of engineering for elementary schoolers. On their last day, Bouwman and her fellow campers visited Medtronic’s headquarters where they got a tour of the labs and were shown some of the newest innovations at the time. One of the devices Bouwman saw was a Deep-Brain Stimulation device, designed to aid tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease.

“They showed us a video of a man with Parkinson’s who shook so badly he could hardly walk or eat, then the engineers flipped the switch on his DBS device and his shaking ceased,” Bouwman recalled. “What I saw happen was an absolute miracle. Ever since that day, all I have wanted to do was spend my life creating miracles. I wanted to learn all I could about the brain and engineering to change lives for other people the way that man had his life changed.”

Bouwman stuck to her goal, eventually pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. Thanks to the PSEO courses she took in high school, Bouwman had enough college credits as a sophomore to qualify early for the SciTech Internship Program, a state-funded resource designed to connect STEM majors with small businesses offering paid internships in industry.

Using the SciTech job board, Bouwman soon came across BlueSky Designs, an assistive technology company that develops and manufactures devices for people with physical disabilities.

BlueSky’s flagship product is the Mount’n Mover, a wheelchair mount that allows a wheelchair user to move their mount on their own instead of having to rely on another person to move what’s in front of them.

“The Mount’n Mover gives people a whole new degree of freedom and independence, and the stories from clients are amazing,” Bouwman said. “It sounded like some of the life-changing I had set out to do, so I applied.”

An exercise in trying
As a Rehab Engineering Intern, Bouwman was trained on a variety of tasks and got the chance to work in several stages of product development. She created CAD drawings in SolidWorks and made technical part drawings, did 3D printing for prototyping, ran quality control for the parts they received from manufacturers, did some report writing, and even tried her hand at a bit of robotics programming and electrical work. Bouwman improved her soft skills as well, communicating with manufacturers to collect price quotes on new parts that she was tasked to design herself.

“Working at BlueSky was one of the best experiences and introductions to engineering that I could have asked for,” said Bouwman proudly. “The company is small, so I had a lot of opportunities to take charge of projects and I felt like I was actually a part of the team. I was challenged to learn new things, think outside the box, and grow as a person. The whole summer was an exercise in trying, failing, and trying again.”

Gaining exposure to so many aspects of the job showed Bouwman just how diverse the biomedical field can be and by dabbling in different departments she was able to learn more and narrow down her area of interest.

To fellow students preparing to branch into industry, Bouwman offered this advice, “Biomedical engineering is such a broad field with so many different specializations. You may get an internship that is more mechanical, electrical, lab focused, or medical. You may end up finding a specialization in biomedical engineering you had never considered before, and even if what you end up doing is not what you want to do forever, that’s good information to have too. Any engineering/industry experience is valuable experience.”

As she wraps up her junior year, Bouwman is looking forward to summer. With a few new internship opportunities before her, she’s eager to apply what she’s learned in a new professional setting.