Gopher football players celebrating a win.

What their bodies (and summer schedules) can handle

CSE student-athletes engineer a new medical device

For Golden Gopher student-athletes, summer isn’t necessarily a time of rest and relaxation, much less long days at the beach. There are the requisite off-season workouts, plus classes to take to stay ahead of the game, so to speak.

And in the case of three athletes, who happen to be University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering students too—football players Jacob Herbers and Grant Ryerse, and women’s hockey player Emily Brown—there was also a challenging internship this summer focused on medical devices product development.

The three Gophers, working on a team with one other intern, were tasked with developing a device (similar to a Fitbit) that can capture physiological data like heart rate and body temperature and be incorporated into existing athletic equipment. The first part of their time at the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center on the Twin Cities campus was dedicated to researching the device’s feasibility, determining if an existing device could be adapted for the need, and exploring the intellectual property (IP) landscape.

It was a perfect fit for three student-athletes with majors in mechanical engineering and a passion for improving performance.

Student-athletes “are always looking for internship opportunities in the cities or even research opportunities on campus, so this was a perfect fit,” said Herbers. “The internship is on campus, and you’re getting really great experience and continuing to hone in on your engineering skills.”

"The draw of this is to work on medical devices—which we’re all interested in—and continue to hone our engineering and learn more about product development in the medical device space," Herbers added.

Brown pointed out that working with her internship group is a nice extension of the teamwork inherent in hockey.

“You all bring different skills and experience to that team,” she said. “Applying those concepts to more of the academic setting has been really fun.”

In addition to the guidance of their internship director, the athletes also had the counsel of project sponsor Ben Utecht (a former Golden Gopher and NFL player) and mentor Adam Black, a former Medical Devices Center innovation fellow.

“The people here give you the support you need,” said Ryerse, “but they let you be independent too.”

The three athletes (all Academic All­­–Big Ten honorees) weren’t able to share what designs they had in mind for their proposed device—sharing intellectual property is like sharing a football playbook, after all—but there is definitely a plan.

“We do have a direction going forward of what we envision for our product,” said Herbers. “We feel that, based on the IP landscape, it’s a niche in the market that we can pursue.”