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VOL. 126 | NO. 34 | Friday, February 18, 2011

Medtronic Shows Students Possibilities in Engineering

By Aisling Maki

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Horn Lake High School senior Carlos Perez hopes to head to Georgia Tech this fall to study mechanical engineering, but he’s already making valuable connections in the industry with the help of Medtronic.

The company, whose Memphis-based Spinal and Biologics business is at 1800 Pyramid Place, is engaging the next generation of engineers and scientists to ensure continued success in health care innovation and research and a continuing pipeline of Mid-South innovators.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for engineers is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, with starting salaries among the highest of all college graduates, and Perez said he will consider bringing his sought-after skill set back to the Memphis metropolitan area following graduation.

“I have a place; they know me here,” said Perez, captain of Horn Lake High School’s Robotics Team, one of five local high school teams Medtronic in Memphis is sponsoring in this year’s FIRST! Robotics Competition.

Medtronic, who launched the program in Memphis in 2008, is also sponsoring The Alliance Team, made up of students from Booker T. Washington, Carver and Frayser high schools, as well as robotics teams from Cordova High School, Hamilton High School and St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

Students will compete in the FIRST! Robotics international contest, whose goal is to inspire students to choose careers in engineering by offering them real-world experience through designing and building robots under the guidance of experienced engineers, like those at Medtronic.

“The school curriculums are really generic, and a lot of our kids are getting out of high school and going into college without the mentality that engineering just seems so big for them,” said Horn Lake math teacher and robotics team leader Brian Jones. “With the Medtronic partnership, I’m able to bring in engineers who work side by side with the students, and they start to see that this field is doable for them. I want to push them towards engineering because we need to become competitive, and Medtronic is helping us do that.”

Although the majority of Medtronic’s outreach efforts target current college students and recent graduates, Medtronic talent acquisition specialist Jasmine Pree-Cary said the company is exploring additional opportunities to work with the high school robotics teams.

“It has been so successful,” she said. “We’re looking to see different things that we can do with high school engineering students. Oftentimes, when they make those connections with people here, they stay in touch. It’s really a relationship-building process, and we’re just excited to have that experience in the Mid-South.”

Pree-Cary said Medtronic in Memphis focuses its recruitment efforts on students interested in four areas: research and development, mechanical engineering, quality engineering and biomedical engineering – a specialty with a sunnier job forecast than any other occupation.

According to the Department of Labor, through 2018 biomedical engineers are projected to see the fastest job growth rate at 72 percent and can expect to earn a median wage of $77,400.

An aging American population – the first of the 70-million strong baby boomers will celebrate their 65th birthdays this year – will drive the demand for improved medical devices and equipment developed by skilled biomedical engineers.

Horn Lake senior and robotics team member C.J. Heustis, who will attend Mississippi State University this fall to study biomedical engineering, said he’s interested in developing the type of state-of-the-art spinal products produced by Medtronic.

“I’ve looked into it a little bit and it seems like a very promising field and seems like it would be a really good challenge and real fun,” he said. “It just really captivates me – incorporating mechanics into a body to just make it better.”

The Medtronic Foundation said 27 percent of its giving currently supports education.

“The Medtronic Foundation is committed to giving the local Medtronic businesses in the community the latitude to receive grant applications from various organizations and also make the decisions as to where the funds are allocated into the community,” said Stephen Franklin, chairman of the local contributions committee for Medtronic Foundation.

In addition to sponsoring the robotics teams, the company’s other local education initiatives include the funding of a high school chemistry program that trains Memphis City Schools teachers in chemistry and operates hands-on labs with students, and the funding of Bishop Byrne High School’s Science Caravan, a program that trains high school students to mentor middle school students in science.

Medtronic also donated the seed funding and continues to provide annual support for the Pink Palace Museum’s Suitcase Program, featuring portable exhibits for local educators.

“The foundation is committed to developing the sciences and education and learning that will ultimately give students the training, opportunity and education that they need to go into the science, particularly engineering and health, because ultimately we’d like to recruit those students once they graduate,” Franklin said.

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