Never apologize for having a scientific mind. It’s a beautiful thing and makes our world a better place.
When I was in high school, my best subjects were English and Industrial Arts. I absolutely loved to write and also craft things in my woodworking class, but I never wanted to turn one of my personal passions into a career. Somehow, that would have ruined them for me. Instead, I was inspired by a multimedia presentation by NASA given at my small, country high school in Placerville, California. NASA told me about the space program and what they wanted to accomplish in the future, then said if we wanted to be a part of their mission, we should study engineering, science, or math. My first question was, “What is engineering?” At a school where less than a third of graduates would do any type of college, and all local jobs were in agriculture, logging, or the service industries, I’d never heard of such a thing. A trip to my high school career center opened my eyes to a whole new world, and it became obvious to me that this was a career choice custom made for someone like me. Since I loved all the power tools in my woodshop, mechanical engineering was the perfect specialty, which I further narrowed to robotics in graduate school for my Master’s degree.
I ended up working for NASA Ames Research Center in the Bay Area of California in the mechanical systems and controls branch while I worked part time on my Master’s at Stanford University. I was excited to be designing aircraft-mounted telescope systems, life science systems for experiments on the Space Shuttle, and new generation all-metal space suits for extra-vehicular activities (EVAs), but after a year and a half, I had the opportunity to work in Japan, which I took.
I had studied Japanese while in college and had a semester-long internship in Kobe, where I designed test devices for marine steering pumps and navigational antennas. It also launched my lifelong pursuit of learning the Japanese language, which is no small undertaking. I ended up living in Sagamihara, Japan for two years and designed memory cards and electrical connectors, earning my first patent.
Upon return, I continued working at NASA for a subcontractor and finished my Master’s degree before moving to Utah. I worked for an entertainment robotics company and designed dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood. If you ever go on that ride, I designed the heads for the mother and baby Ultrasaur, the head and lift mechanism for the Parasaur, and the legs of the T-Rex, along with a whole bunch of finite element analysis safety testing on various dinosaurs. It was exciting work and fun to be a part of, but like my work at NASA, it was all prototypes—one off designs that I could never improve upon. Unfortunately, there isn’t much call for a second T-Rex.
So, I switched to the orthopaedic implant and medical device design field, and have never looked back. I spent another twelve years designing hip and knee implants and instruments and loved every minute of it. By 2000, I was eager to learn more about my chosen field of engineering, so I went back to college for my doctorate in biological systems engineering at the University of California at Davis. I chose to work with an orthopaedic spine surgeon on my dissertation research, and together we developed a sensor system for measuring the progress of spinal fusion, for which we have received several patents.
While earning my doctorate, I realized I had a passion for teaching, so I left industry in 2008 to teach mechanical and biomedical engineering at the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon. I loved every minute of teaching, where I developed new courses to tie into my diverse interests—even woodworking, when I launched a course in advanced CAD and automated manufacturing for students to be able to machine the designs they had created. I also developed a new Master’s program for the university in 2015 in biomedical engineering, of which I am very proud.
Life, however, always takes unexpected twists and turns, and now I am pursuing my spinal fusion sensor research full time while also writing my first novel, APEX. This book is a genre sometimes called speculative fiction, and it is a contemporary, sci-fi thriller with a huge dollop of mystery thrown in, set in rural La Grande, Oregon. It’s a beautiful small town that reminds me of Placerville, and it also happens to have a migrant wolf population that has settled in the area in recent years. Opinions about their presence are mixed, and it’s a topic I wanted to explore in my novel.