Back to School

We began our crash course in medical device innovation on Monday, where we met our 30 or so Costa Rican classmates. My team was assigned to address the need for flossing aids for the elderly population, who might find standard floss difficult to use with arthritic fingers, tremors, or dental implants and bridges. Although it might seem trivial, flossing is essential to oral and general health and removes bacteria that is inaccessible with a toothbrush. Current flossing tools on the market do not fully address this issue, and the elderly population is a large market.

The students in our class varied in age, hometown, engineering background, and design experience. My group consisted of a chemist, materials scientist, industrial engineer, coffee farmer, and a bioengineer (me!). Our ages ranged from 21 to 33. We started the course off by doing a brief survey on our “core values” to get a better sense of how our team might work together. I thought that there might be cultural lines dividing our answers, especially in the category of monochronism and how we view time, but we tended to agree in most categories. It was helpful to get a sense of each other’s tendencies before we jumped into the project, and it was exciting to work on such an interdisciplinary team.

On the first day, we powered through needs finding, patient money flow, market analysis, customer needs and design criteria for our flossing aid. It was important to get the whole team on the same page, especially when lectures were heavy on new material. I was impressed by the Costa Rican students who were all taking this course in a language that is not their first. The next days were more focused on brainstorming, prototyping, and presentation skills. I had never been formerly taught presentation skills, and didn’t realize how much I had to learn in this department.

As the only Rice student on my team, I was responsible for filling my Costa Rican counterparts in on the background information of our flossing assignment. I found that they then looked to me to begin tasks and share with the class. Throughout the week, I noticed some strengths and weaknesses in my leadership abilities. I felt comfortable encouraging my teammates to answer questions in front of the class and report back the work we had done. I also pushed them to discuss their ideas before I gave my own two cents so that my opinion did not sway them one way or another. By the end of the week, most of my teammates felt comfortable sharing with the class without my pushing. I noticed that I was not good at allocating work and I instead put most of the tasks on myself, only to get anxious when I realized how much we had left to do. Throughout the week I got better at this and felt more confident in my team and our abilities. We were able to talk about how to most efficiently divvy up the work so that we were each working on something we felt we were good at. I ended up being incredibly proud of what my teammates and I created, and I know they were, too. They expressed how exciting it was to create something from start (need) to finish (product). The presentation was nerve racking, particularly for them because it was in English and in front of judges from local companies, but they practiced a lot and I was truly impressed with the outcome.

Our team, FlowFloss, after presenting our comfort plaque removal solution for the elderly.

Large scale, low fidelity FlowFloss prototype.

For our first weekend off, most of us took a trip to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. On Saturday, we lounged on the beach and hung out at our hotel. On Sunday, we experienced true rainforest weather just in time for our rainforest hike. We got soaked through our raincoats but had a great time, hiking around 5 miles and seeing monkeys and funky buttress trees.

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