Name: Neil O’Donnell
Year: Class of 2013
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Minor: Entrepreneurship and Management
At Johns Hopkins University, I have taken many classes in to obtain a major in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Entrepreneurship and Management. Some might assume that these courses have very little overlap, yet in both sets courses I have been challenged by my professors to innovate and to take the lead. As a Biomedical Engineer, my professors routinely advise students to think differently about problems in order to devise unique solutions. By looking at the body as a machine with inputs and outputs can we design solutions to precisely treat the body’s aliments. Similarly, in my business courses, professors have challenged me to look at products and companies differently. Business executives can only effectively design, manufacture, and market innovative products like the iPad by utilizing creativity and original thinking. Therefore at Johns Hopkins, whether I was in a class focusing on international trade or molecules and cells each of my professors emphasized that creativity and unique thinking are vital elements of problem solving.
In my first Biomedical Engineering course, Professor Art Shoukas challenged our class to devise an elegant solution for how much blood the heart pumps. My peers and I busily worked to find the solution. Some of my peers tried to model how much blood there was within the body. Others tried to adapt complicated equations that they had learned in Physics courses in order to solve the problem. After ten minutes of frenetic (and fruitless) work, Professor Shoukas stopped us and told us that we were all over thinking the problem. Professor Shoukas told us that we had all forgot the most important element of the problem- the heart. Since we had tried to model every element of this complex system, we had become lost in our own equations. The answer to the question which Professor Shoukas later told us was in fact very simple, the volume that the heart pumps per minute is simply the heart rate per minute multiplied by the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat. With this lesson, Professor Shoukas demonstrated that it is essential in problem solving to only focus on the major elements of the system. Although Professor Shoukas taught me this lesson, Professor Lawrence Aronhime within the Center for Leadership Education cemented this message within my mind.
In my freshman year, I entered the Johns Hopkins Business Plan competition with my business plan idea, “Dress to Impress, Inc.” My business plan was initially very complicated as I tried to include a litany of operations within my ideal business. I planned to have a large (unwieldy) business structure with numerous centers around the world. After I had completed a draft of my business plan, I asked to meet with Professor Aronhime to improve my idea. After reading my plan, Professor Aronhime stated that the plan was a good start, but I had forgotten that the point of a business is to create customers and reward shareholders. In my complex business plan, I had again become lost in the details of the plan and had forgotten the essential elements of a business. I had forgotten to focus on the major elements of my business. With Professor Aronhime’s help, I trimmed the unnecessary elements out of my plan and focused only on the operations which would both create value for customers and profits for shareholders. By following Professor Aronhime’s advice to “keep it simple”, I placed second in the Johns Hopkins Business plan competition. This feat would have been impossible if I had not remained focused on the essential elements of my business. Therefore, in my freshman year, I learned (and re-learned) my most important lesson at Johns Hopkins University. In order to solve a complex problem, I cannot become lost within the complexity of the system. Instead, I focus only on the essential elements of a system in order to obtain a simple solution.
By focusing only on the key variables of every question, I have become a much more effective problem solver. This methodology will serve me well in both the engineering and business world. In fact, in Design Team, a class at Johns Hopkins University, I have been able to put both my business and engineering skills to the test. Design Team is a yearlong course which places biomedical engineers in teams and challenges them with solving current medical problems. Yet, the teams must not only consider how to design this technology but also how to introduce the product into hospitals to improve the lives of patients around the world. My design team is focused on designing and manufacturing a low-cost, therapeutic hypothermia device to treat infants at risk for Cerebral Palsy in the developing world. In order to efficiently solve this medical problem, our team crafted a simple and cost-effective device to penetrate the healthcare markets of developing nations. Furthermore, in designing our commercialization plan, we have focused on an efficient strategy to get our device into as many hospitals within the developing world as possible. Without simplicity and focus, our group could have not achieved our goals and objectives. Yet, by designing a device which only focuses on reducing the chances of an infant developing Cerebral Palsy, our team has developed a prototype which has demonstrated the capacity to effectively treat infants within both mechanical and animal studies. Therefore, through simplicity, our design team is on the verge of achieving our goals and improving the lives of infants across the globe.