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St. Olaf students innovate alongside Mayo Clinic experts

Eight St. Olaf students who participated in this summer's Mayo Innovation Scholars Program pose for a portrait at the world-renowned medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota.
The eight St. Olaf students who participated in this summer’s Mayo Innovation Scholars Program — (from left) Rayan Sadeldin Bashir Mohamed ’20, Bjorn Anderson ’20, Disa Sullivan ’20, Suvd Davaadorj ’20, Dao Thi Anh Nguyen ’20, Yilin Song ’20, Giang Thi Tra Le ’20, and Wael Awada ’19 — stand in the lobby of the world-renowned medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota.

As part of a decade-long partnership with Mayo Clinic, eight St. Olaf College students gained hands-on experience this summer in the business side of health care.

Through the college’s Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, the students worked on two health care projects offered by Mayo Clinic’s Department of Surgery and their Center for Innovation.

The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, offered at St. Olaf each summer and Interim, provides an opportunity for selected undergraduate students to evaluate projects submitted to Mayo Clinic Ventures, the arm of Mayo responsible for evaluating potential business opportunities for discoveries and inventions created by Mayo Clinic physicians and researchers.

One team of four students spent six weeks exploring the technical and commercial merits of a novel medical device used for gastrointestinal procedures. This team had an immersive experience learning about the medical device market, intellectual property protection, the Food and Drug Administration approval process, research and development costs, revenue predictions, and potential licensing partners for this technology. The scholars were supported by the inventor, a well-known Mayo Clinic surgeon, and an experienced team of technology managers in charge of commercializing Mayo’s innovations in the health care field.

A second group of four students worked with Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation exploring market and consumer habits when patients are considering where to obtain high-cost procedures like Proton Beam Therapy, Car-T Cell Therapy, Nuclear Medicine, or other specialized treatments for complex cancer diagnoses. In order to understand the factors driving patients’ decision-making, the team developed surveys for patients and interviewed oncologists and other practitioners.

“We helped influence Mayo Clinic’s decisions regarding their medical investments. I don’t know of many summer jobs where you can do that.”

At the end of the six weeks, the two teams traveled to the world-renowned medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota, presented their findings to stakeholders at Mayo Clinic, and made recommendations about how Mayo Clinic could move forward with these treatments and technologies.

“It was very real — both meaningful and impactful,” says Mayo Innovation Scholar Disa Sullivan ’20. “We helped influence Mayo Clinic’s decisions regarding their medical investments. I don’t know of many summer jobs where you can do that.”

An interdisciplinary liberal arts experience
The intensive Mayo Innovation Scholars Program highlights the important combination of science and economics that is crucial to the health care world. For this reason about half of the scholars chosen are students who study economics and the social sciences, while the other half are students with academic studies rooted in the natural sciences.

Sullivan, a pre-med biology student, says this intersection of disciplines was what sparked her interest in the program. “What initially drew me to the project was the fact that the program was a combination of economics and science. I was interested in the medical device industry and learning how decisions about how to move forward with medical devices are made,” she says. “It was very much both ends of the spectrum, the business side and the science side, with everything in between.”

St. Olaf takes pride in the liberal arts education that its students receive. With the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program, students are able to see the value of this type of education off the Hill.

“I definitely gained a new appreciation for economics and how interdisciplinary the real world is,” says Sullivan. “Being able to experience the initial phases of innovation and the markets for these devices was incredibly beneficial to pursuing a health-oriented career. Now I not only understand the importance of how medical devices can affect patients, but I also understand how these devices are created and the complicated process that brings them to market.”