WASHINGTON, PA (Aug. 17, 2015) – Not one to shy away from a challenge when it comes to following his dreams, Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Blynn Shideler ’18 wanted to pursue a Magellan Project from the moment he joined the W&J community.
The Gibsonia, Pa., native is completing the dual-degree, 3-2 engineering program and is also a French major. After attending W&J for three years, Shideler plans to finish his engineering degree, concentrating on biomedical engineering, at W&J’s partner institution, Columbia University.
Shortly after his freshman year began, Shideler visited W&J’s Magellan Project Coordinator, Tyler Tenney ’14, and worked with his French professor, Katrine Pflanze, Ph.D., to help him reach out to companies and research groups in France. Shideler wanted to find an internship in the field of prosthetic engineering that also allowed him to use his natural talents in the French language.
Beginning in October, Shideler sent emails to numerous prosthetic research labs in France, but was unable to secure an internship in his area of interest. Without missing a beat, Shideler continued his search and broadened his scope to biomedical research and engineering, which led to contact with Mr. Pierre-Paul Vidal at the research group Cognition and Action Group (COGNAC-G). Shideler was offered a biomedical engineering research internship at the renowned Université Paris Descartes in Paris.
During his three-month internship, Shideler gained the experience of a lifetime as the youngest and only international intern to work with COGNAC-G.
Shideler conducted research on a variety of projects. He analyzed skeletal muscular activity in the body during the gait (walking) cycle using electromyograms (EMGs) and constructed hypotheses for the similarities and differences found between people. He also researched “smart check,” a method of quantifying human behavior through consultation. The goal of this research is to work with neuroscientists and engineers to formulate non-invasive tools to collect data on the physical, psychological and sociological characteristics of individuals.
“Working with (COGNAC-G) has given me a lot of opportunities,” said Shideler, who quickly took on many different roles and responsibilities at his internship.
After two weeks, Shideler was given the opportunity to conduct an independent study in the lab observing acceleration patterns in the feet during a normal gait cycle. COGNAC-G wanted to do the experiment for over a year, but without the time and proper equipment to do so, Shideler stepped in at the right moment and was responsible for tracking down the necessary technology and designing the elements of the experiment.
After a successful three-week analysis, Shideler presented his results in both English and French to the research group Le Centre de Mathématiques et de Leurs Applications at the famous l’École Normale Supérieure, becoming the first teenager to conduct and present independent research for COGNAC-G.
As the only native English speaker, Shideler had the honor of co-editing a COGNAC-G publication on a multi-million dollar whiplash study.
As part of the Magellan Project’s Franklin Internship Award, Shideler also conducted individual research while in France. Once a week, he visited a hospital in Paris where he helped engineers working to rehabilitate people who have muscular dystrophies, such as from a stroke or Parkinson’s disease.
“I really enjoy working at the hospital because the patients are very nice, and it is such a warm feeling for me to think that in some way, I am making these people’s lives better. In fact, that’s sort of what made me interested in (biomedical) engineering in the first place,” he said.
Embarking on a journey outside of the U.S. to intern at COGNAC-G could not have been a better fit for Shideler, whose dream is to work in prosthetic engineering and design artificial limbs.
“As far as my experience abroad goes, I can’t even begin to describe how beneficial it has been for me to grow as an individual,” Shideler said. “I think anyone who wants to know what it means to be independent should do a Magellan. In fact, I believe that is what the Magellan Project is all about: learning how to solve problems and figure things out alone.”
About the Magellan Project
Established in 2008, Washington & Jefferson College’s unique Magellan Project extends liberal arts learning outside the classroom by providing scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships in the United States and abroad. Learn more about the Magellan Project on the W&J website.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.
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