Cadets attend STAR, STEM outreach in Orlando

By Lt. Col. Melissa Eslinger Department of Chemistry and Life Science

April 13th, 2017 | News, News and Features
(From left to right) Class of 2019 Cadet Jacob Fryer, Kevin McGowan, Class of 2018 Cadet Nicholas Mcniffe, Class of 2018 Cadet Johan Blas, Class of 2018 Cadet Louis Kurcz, Class of 2019 Cadet Halle Kotchman, Jess Schwarz and Class of 2019 Cadet Kenny Lee prepare for robotic assisted surgery at the Nicholson Center April 2-4.   Courtesy Photo
Cadets utilize Mazor Robotics Technology and imaging to perform spinal pre-surgical planning at the Nicholson Center April 2-4.

An interdisciplinary team of cadets and faculty attended the Symposium for Technology and Robotics (STAR) in Celebration, Florida from April 2-4. STAR, in its fifth year, is endowed by members of the USMA Class of 1995. STAR strives to inspire students to enter Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This jam-packed event included a STEM Roundtable Dinner, robotic surgery training at the Nicholson Center, outreach to Celebration High School, and visits to the Army Research Lab-Orlando.

The symposium afforded cadets from six fields of study including life science, physics, inter-disciplinary science, computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering the opportunity to conduct the cutting-edge training and outreach. The faculty nominated cadets for positions on the team who were recognized performers within their particular academic concentrations. The team, led by Lt. Col. Melissa Eslinger and Lt. Col.Timothy Hill from the Department of Chemistry and Life Science, immersed students in medical terminology, simulations and practical applications in the human cadaver lab.

The STAR concept originated with former Armor officer Peter Carnegie (USMA ‘95), who is the CEO of Minimally Invasive Solutions (MIS). His company develops protocols to train Cardiothoracic Surgeons in the repair of mitral valves, aortic valves and coronary artery bypass using the Da Vinci surgical robot.

Following arrival in Celebration, Florida, the cadets were invited to a roundtable discussion over dinner with premier experts across several fields.

These experts were selected to demonstrate how STEM studies in college can translate into a variety of career fields. The ultimate goal, as Carnegie stated, was to experience medicine in new ways to “find your passion that will last a lifetime.”

A special guest, Dr. Rita Finley, assistant dean from Morehouse School of Medicine, spoke with cadets on how to present themselves as competent scientists and budding clinicians during medical interviews.

Her experiences illustrated how Morehouse narrows a pool of 7,000 applicants to 100 positions. She imparted to the cadets that beyond studying biology, chemistry or physics, the most important thing is to become problem solvers. Her colleague, Dr. Mark House, discussed curriculum and educational research to “go beyond teaching what is already known.”

Both articulated the necessity of retaining an “A”rtistic approach and placing an “A” in STEM to make “STEAM” successful. Dr. Nak Kazigo (USMA ‘95) discussed the importance of building relationships with professors and investing in the future to give-back to subsequent STEM cohorts. Matt Kelly and Kevin McGowan discussed how their paths in sales and finance led them to training surgeons in the operating room. Together, these experts inspired cadets to consider options in traditional and non-traditional STEM paths.

The Nicholson Center in Celebration is a cutting-edge facility where clinicians train on robotic-assisted surgeries.

On the second day, Anthony Nicholson, benefactor of the training center, addressed cadets and the STAR audience as he emphasized the importance of communication and continuing STEM education. He encouraged and extolled the cadets by reminding them that it is technologies such as using sound waves to remove tumors, or eliminating tremors, or using simulations and robots to train surgeons that will directly translate to improved patient outcomes.

This training partnership also extends to Chris Prentice (USMA ’92), the CEO of Mazor Robotics. Mazor brought neurosurgery and spinal repair training aspects to the conference. A long-time supporter of cadet training, Todd Larson, introduced cadets to simulators where surgeons practice skills on robotic manipulation through a series of tasks. Cadets were able to compare their performance and hone skills relative to practicing physicians.

Simultaneously, Kazigo and Carnegie led cadets through robotic assisted mitrovalve replacement and cardiac by-pass procedures in the cadaver labs. For several cadets, these efforts either reinforced their resolve in medicine or introduced them to new paths in science and industry.

Beyond pre-med students, STAR offers training in engineering and technical aspects. For cadets interested in the technology associated with medical devices, Kelly, a former Army officer working with Abbott Vascular, discussed the engineering behind medical stents. He compared previous and current biomaterials and designs used for various types of stents.

An international member, Chris Lo (USMA ’95) brought his insights into information management and data analytics he has honed while working in the private sector in Singapore.

On the final day, cadets visited the Army Research Lab Orlando where Col. Harold Buhl introduced the hierarchy of Research and Development Command and the Acquisition pathways.

The mission of ARL-O is to cultivate early ideas to discover and innovate concepts to support Warriors and transition them to the Project Managers at Army Materiel Command. Cadets interacted with medical models and simulators used in casualty training. These models are capable of movement with realistic tissues for assessing intravenous need placement and trauma response under stress. Cadets were also introduced to Augmented Reality Enhanced Simulations via sandtables and MK19 Simulators.

These devices can facilitate training of personnel under realistic conditions.

Brig. Gen. William Cole (USMA ‘87), Program Executive Officer for Simulation (PEO-STRI), spoke with cadets on how to leverage technology and simulations and addressed questions about the acquisition processes. The afternoon concluded with a visit to the National Center for Simulation with USAF Retired Lt. Gen. Tom Baptiste, President National Center for Simulation, and Dr. Mike Macedonia, DOD National Science Board and University of Central Florida, who spoke on several active areas of research to bring technology to troops to improve the human/robot teams.

Whether this experience inspires future capstone projects or stimulates pathways toward creating augmented reality tools to benefit Soldiers, as Cadet Maya Kuang put it, “interacting with the forefront of simulations and medicine has further solidified my fascination regarding STEM fields.”

These discussions provided cadets practical experience and direct access to mentors within their various specialties. In particular, these future efforts are designed to focus on collaborations within the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, as well as research and technical entities interested in improving the health of Soldiers.

The efforts of the STAR committee reinvigorated cadets’ interests in their fields of study by the use of nascent tools and technology that is grounded in the STEM materials they experience in the classroom.

After a day of cardiothoracic and spinal surgery, time on the robotic surgery simulation, surgical planning software and augment reality training options, the cadets returned with renewed dedication gained from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.