"To be able to apply the concepts from class in an atmosphere where you own the project helps you to be invested and motivates you in your course of study. Labs are great but being able to assist on research projects as an undergraduate provides the real ownership."
For many years, Josh worked in the graphic design field. Making the decision to come back to school and invest in a second career was a major commitment. Today, Josh is currently in his junior year of coursework to earn a degree in mechanical and materials engineering. He has supplemented his engineering coursework with a variety of classes in chemistry, electronics, and biology. He anticipates earning his bachelor's degree in 2011 and then pursuing a master's degree in biomedical engineering. Josh's ultimate goal is to work as a researcher finding solutions to functionality issues with artificial limbs.
Josh has already gotten a jump start on his future career goals as a researcher. He is working as part of a team of student researchers with Professor James McNames in the Biomedical Signal Processing Laboratory. Together, they are hoping to help improve the way Parkinson's disease assessment tests are performed. One of the ways Parkinson's is manifested is in motor skill difficulty. Current tests used to measure these abilities are subjective and exposed to interpretation. Professor McNames and his research team are creating testing devices that are targeted at objectively measuring the most affected motor skills. They work closely with the Oregon Health Science University's (OHSU) Parkinson's Center of Oregon as well as the Neurology Department-Balance Disorders Lab. Patients at OHSU provide feedback on the testing devices and serve as a source for data collection. Last year, students in the Biomedical Signal Processing Laboratory developed a foot tapping device to measure large motor skills. Over the summer students worked to develop device that will focus on measuring use of motion in the fingers. Both devices and the accompanying software started clinical testing in the fall of 2009. Ideally this research will better enable doctors to assess and thereby more effectively treat patients with Parkinson's and assist researchers to shorten research cycles with fewer subjects. They have also been looked at by other researchers to help find solutions for other types of movement disorders.
"I was drawn to PSU because of its focus on research and its close ties with the research community in Portland. My ability to participate in research projects as an undergraduate student has helped to enhance my educational experience and provide a good context for my future career goals," says Josh.