Innovation Scholars Present Spinal Device Ideas to Mayo Clinic

Photo (l-r): Krys Strand; Trent Schoenborn, Minnesota Private College Council; Harshana DeSilva Feelixge, IS mentor; Chelsea Masikati, IS team member; Katie Holloway, IS team leader; Connor Sturges, IS team member; Ivana Drocezesky, IS team member; Ellia Dalzell, IS team member; Anne Craft; Shelly Gompf, IS mentor; Kristen Tupa, St. Catherine University IS mentor; President William Craft

A team of four student researchers from Concordia presented project recommendations in March to licensing managers and designers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as the culmination of the Innovation Scholars Program.

Innovation Scholars is a nationally recognized experiential learning program that engages teams of liberal arts students in the complex processes of translational medicine, taking an idea “from the bench to the bedside.” Project partners include Mayo Clinic and early-stage Medical Alley companies.

“Working at the intersection of science, healthcare and entrepreneurship, the multidisciplinary team spent four months tackling a challenging biomedical tech transfer project focused on an implantable spinal orthopedic device,” wrote Dr. Rebecca Hawthorne, program director of Innovation Scholars.

L-r: Chelsea Masikati, Katie Holloway, Connor Sturges, Ivana Drocezesky, Ellia Dalzell

Concordia’s 2022-23 Innovation Scholars team — Ellia Dalzell ’23 (business-healthcare), Ivana Drocezesky ’24 (finance), Chelsea Masikati ’23 (biology), and Connor Sturges ’24 (biology, neuroscience) — was led by St. Catherine University MAOL (Master of Arts in organizational leadership) student Katie Halloway. Campus mentors included Dr. Krys Strand, associate professor of biology and neuroscience program director; Bree Langemo, assistant professor of law and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship; Charissa Quinlan ’13, senior director of project and program management at Aldevron, Fargo; and Dr. Shelly Gompf, assistant professor of healthcare and director of the healthcare leadership program.

Every year the project is “something very real and dynamic,” Strand said. Students may be examining a new medical device, a diagnostic tool, or any number of things. Everyone who participates signs a nondisclosure agreement and cannot share details about the project with others.

Strand said a lot of the research is in the science of understanding what it is and its competitors, but it’s also in the business aspect of it and the market analysis, too. “Mayo’s number one mission is patients first, so they’re committed to getting good ideas to market, but they also have to be responsible financially,” she said.

“Students really have to work together and learn from each other, which I think is a great aspect of this program,” Strand added.

The teams write a lengthy report that they submit to Mayo Clinic and then they give a half-hour presentation of recommendations followed by an intensive Q&A.

Strand added that a fun aspect of the presentation day is that students are invited to a formal lunch at the Mayo Foundation House, the prior home of one of the Mayo brothers.

President William and Anne Craft attended the presentation and Advancement staff Kristen Bortnem ’97, gift planner, and Trina Hall ’98, director of development, organized an alumni dinner the night before where the students were able to make connections.

Strand gave an example of a product currently on the market now that came through the Innovation Scholars Program — Cologuard, the home colon cancer screening test.

“It’s cool just to see where some of these projects go once they become public,” she added.

The students said it was a wonderful opportunity to learn with a team of interdisciplinary students.

“As a biology major, I tend to approach everything with my science background, but the program opened my eyes and helped me see the world from the business side of things as well,” Masikati said.

“The teamwork skills I gained were unique to this experience and will help me as I further my career in healthcare leadership,” Dalzell said. “Also, collaborating with a team of innovators from one of the world’s leading healthcare systems is truly an honor and something I am very grateful to have experienced.”