Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. MicroOptx, a medtech company based in Maple Grove, Minnesota, is hard at work developing a device that will reduce eye pressure responsible for damaging the optical nerve’s connection to the brain. The Beacon Aqueous Microshunt (BAM) utilizes nanotechnology, micro-engineering and advanced biomaterials to revolutionize the medical community’s approach to glaucoma treatment.

As a small team of only 11 fulltime employees, MicroOptx looks toward the next wave of young medical device professions and often welcomes interns to help expedite their research and development.

“Interns are essential,” explained Aaron Cohen, MicroOptx’ VP of Engineering and Manufacturing. “All of our engineers were at one point interns. It’s the blood of the company, it’s a progression and we need them.”

Devynn Saunders, a biomedical engineering major at the University of Minnesota who was hired through the SciTech Internship Program, is MicroOptx’s first virtual intern, but she didn’t start off that way.

“It all began with an email,” Saunders recalled. After applying for the position she heard back from Cohen and his team right away. The interview was very informal, she said, “I felt like I could be myself.”

“Devynn was highly qualified, and everyone in the lab said she was really enjoyable to be around,” Cohen said. “So offering her the job was a really easy decision once we got to meet her.”

Starting in the Lab
During the first half of her internship, Saunders was introduced to the Microshunt wherein she learned how the device works and the process that goes into building it. Saunders then got the chance to help MicroOptx with their preparations for the clinical trials product release.

“It was a really cool experience to see how a project goes from start to finish,” Saunders said. “At a bigger company, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see all the different sides of a product and all the different components that go into making it. Especially with something that will actually go into someone’s body.”

Quarantine shift
Saunders’ last day in the lab was right before spring break. She recalled being excited about returning to continue on her work, but little did she know that due to the quarantine her time in the lab had come to a premature end. As MicroOptx transitioned to a work-from-home model, Saunders’ internship experience shifted from hands-on projects to independent research.

With regular check-ins and weekly meetings, the trickiest parts of Saunders’ internship became simply avoiding distractions while working from home. As for her tasks, Saunders said, “I’ve been doing projects such as making PowerPoints and doing more research to further my knowledge in the industry. It’s been really nice to have that opportunity.”

Some of the research she’s conducted during the second half of her internship has helped Saunders learn more about working with MicroOptx’ quality management system as well as understanding more about what goes into being a mechanical engineer as a whole.

“I’ve definitely gained a lot more confidence in myself,” Saunders said. “Before this, I’d never had an opportunity to show employers what I can do or prove that I can work in this industry.

“I think being a woman in STEM presents its own challenges. Showing everyone that I am capable of doing this has been a huge accomplishment for me. Especially going into my senior year knowing that I’ll need to find a job, I have a lot more confidence in myself and knowing that I am a competent woman in STEM and I can hang with the men in this industry as well.”

Saunders wants to make an impact. Being an advocate for change and doing what she can to bring more diversity to the workforce is a big goal of hers. Though she admits she’s not 100 percent sure what’s next for her, whether it’s working in the industry or getting her PhD so she can become a professor, Saunders is determined to do her part to inspire others in this field.

“I want to use the knowledge and motivation that I have to inspire younger women and girls to go into science.”

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