UC's Cross-Collegiate Teams Have Smashing Good Time With 'Medical Device Innovation' Project

When groups of UC students from three different colleges get together, they often think outside the box. This time, they kept it inside the box. In this case the “it” is an egg — 18 of them to be precise.

"At this moment they are unaware of what lies ahead,” instructor Mary Beth Privitera mentions the day before the event. “But they have been instructed to dress with messiness in mind.”

The Medical Device Innovation (MDI) students are following a special course of study that combines business, industrial design and biomedical engineering. In this introductory course, the students were put into interdisciplinary teams based on a variety of factors, including their skills and leadership abilities. Then the team members, themselves, selected their leaders. Sometimes strong leaders emerge; sometimes more than one emerges and then the leaders have to figure out how to work together — just like in the business world.

“We reviewed teaming skills and took a personality inventory prior to this exercise,” says Privitera. “The students will then be required to identify 10 positive interactions and 10 challenges to their team performance after the event.”

On Thursday, Sept. 30, Privitera gave her MDI students 18 eggs, 20 pieces of cardboard, masking tape, a cutting device, a plastic shopping bag and cotton balls. The MDI teams were then required to work together and support eggs falling off the walkway over Brodie garage. The goal was to be the team with the most unbroken eggs on the bottom level.

Zero hour at the Brodie Garage. A light fog still hangs in the air. Or maybe it’s the tension. The teams are given their bags of eggs and sundry supplies. The clock begins to tick.

“We will ask them to look back on what they learned,” says BME chair Ed Grood, standing on a breezy Brodie walkway. He glances toward the teams, working diligently on their impromptu egg carriers. Team #2 seems to be individually wrapping each egg in cotton, within the carton. BME faculty members Grood, Privitera and Bala Haridas offer encouragement and support.

“This is really a ‘this is what we’re all about’ course. Also, I plan on taking their suggestions and making the problem a little more difficult next year,” says Privitera. Medical Device Innovation I is followed by II and III in winter and spring quarters, respectively. “Part of their project is straight mechanical engineering. Part of their work is classic tissue stuff — soft, biological challenges of shape and access. The design students, who normally look at aesthetics, have to consider different aspects from what they’re used to.”

When the biomedical engineering faculty chose the teams, they looked at balance — but not necessarily in number. One team had 50% more than the other at four members. In business, if not in eggs, bigger is not always better.

"It was easier for us to get together,” says BME student Samantha Cronier of “Team 2.” “We had fewer schedules to coordinate.”

Team #1's first attempt

Team #1's first attempt

Soon the two teams learn that they are up to the challenge. Both teams’ first try is the same: leaving the carton of 18 eggs in the plastic shopping bag, with the egg carton itself cushioned by the cotton balls. Using a rope out of masking tape, they then lowered the bag gently to the pavement below. Cautious and successful, if not very exciting. Team #1’s second attempt duplicated the first, with the same results. Eighteen safe little eggs nestled snugly in their carton. The boredom of success sparked some thinking outside the carton.

Mary Beth Privitera, M. Design

Mary Beth Privitera, M. Design

“See if you can do it without the carton!” suggests Privitera.

“What happens if you just drop it?” asks Grood.

“Let’s test this to failure!” suggests Team #1’s Jon Spanyer, from the College of Engineering.

Team #2’s second attempt takes everyone by surprise. In the true spirit of nemawashi, they have listened to Team #1’s progress and labored long preparing their second attempt but spend just seconds in the execution. They abruptly launch the second carton directly over the side of the walkway. More spectators crack up than eggs. Only two eggs cracked and one flat-out broke.

Engineering student David Sheyn

Engineering student David Sheyn

“Did you inspect the eggs before they were dropped?” asks Dr. Grood. Any good homemaker would have suggested the same.

It is clear that many lessons are learned that day. No yolk.

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