Students partner with Mayo Clinic during experiential research project

March 31, 2014

By Michael Hemmesch '97

From left: Olivia Kalkman, Shannon Stein, Megan Bollin, Chase Keimig

Mayo Clinic describes itself as "a nonprofit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education for people from all walks of life." So, it certainly is unique that an organization of that stature turns to undergraduate students from local colleges for help in researching complex scientific and business projects.

Four seniors at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University recently concluded their participation in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program (MISP). 

The interdisciplinary program provides research opportunities to teams of undergraduates from Minnesota private colleges, under the guidance of select graduate students. 

The CSB and SJU students worked on a project on campus throughout the 2013-14 academic year, and presented their findings in March at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and in a written report. On average, each student put in roughly 150 hours of work during the program.

CSB senior biology major Megan Bollin (St. Louis Park, Minn.), CSB senior communication major Olivia Kalkman (Eagan, Minn.), SJU senior management major Chase Keimig (Madison, Minn.) and CSB senior biology major Shannon Stein (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) presented research on a project titled "Urinary CNP as a Diagnostic Test for Renal Disease."

The students worked on the project with Mayo Clinic Ventures, an office which works closely with Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists to mine inventions, ideas and discoveries that will transform health care.

Student reflections on outcomes

After the presentation, the students described their experience and its benefits. 

"The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program has proved to be a wonderful opportunity for my professional growth and has helped me to broaden my skill set," Kalkman said. "It further reinforced my interest in a career in the health care industry and has provided me with the experience to pursue my career goals. I have learned how to research and develop a real-life business report and how to work better in an interdisciplinary team. It is an accomplished feeling knowing that our work will be used at Mayo Clinic for future endeavors."

The students also spoke highly of the program's interdisciplinary approach. 

"Being a part of the MISP has definitely had a positive impact on me," Stein said. "It was a great experience and I feel that I am much more marketable because I have this experience. It's a great talking point and I have pride in this accomplishment. I have learned a lot about working in a team, and also a bit about working in the real world because this wasn't a school program and I will be able to apply these skills to future ambitions."

"This program played a large role in influencing my decision to go into the medical device industry where I will have the ability to use my science background as well as explore the business aspect as well," Bollin said. "The chance to work as part of an interdisciplinary team has proven to be one of the most valuable parts of my academic career."

"The Mayo Innovation Scholars Program allowed me to further my career interest in the field of healthcare," Keimig said. "The program also allowed me to use specific concepts from my various courses and apply them to a real-world situation. Our project was quite ambiguous; however, working with students from various backgrounds and majors creates an opportunity for a wide array of opinions and strategies to be used in the process of reaching a goal."

Support and praise from advisers

They were supported by Brianne Hamm, current MBA student at the University of St. Thomas. Lisa Lindgren, associate professor of global business leadership at CSB and SJU; and Jennifer Schaefer, assistant professor of biology at CSB and SJU, served as project advisers. Laura Hammond, assistant director of experiential learning and community engagement at CSB and SJU, provided administrative support.

"This year's team did a great job of responsibly evaluating a complicated project and providing a clear explanation of their conclusions," Schaefer said. "It was exciting to watch them realize that they could provide valuable input that would influence the future directions of product development and research at the Mayo Clinic."

"This program breeds excellent leadership skills for the students as well, not just the graduate team leader," Hamm said. "Successful leadership is about inspiring new leaders, not creating followers. I was blessed to have a motivated team of students that all took the initiative to be leaders in their areas of project responsibilities."

MISP aims to assist Mayo Clinic in the assessment of new product submissions by Mayo researchers, provide research opportunities for undergraduate science and business students and provide leadership development and research opportunities for MBA students. 

"For me, a very valuable aspect is that students from very different academic backgrounds and disciplines work together to form a recommendation," Lindgren said. "In order to do so, they must learn something of the other discipline. In addition, it is a confidence-building process. By the time they present, they truly are experts and feel confident in their work and recommendation."

"MISP allows students the opportunity to work across disciplines to apply theories and concepts to a real-world, innovative project from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic," Hammond said. "With the mentorship of their faculty advisers, this research-intensive experience, coupled with a culminating presentation to Mayo staff members, pushes students to use and realize the talents and knowledge they've gained at CSB and SJU."

The program was designed in 2006 by John Meslow, a retired Medtronic executive. Together with Mayo Clinic Ventures and the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC), Meslow created a unique program to place students from a variety of disciplines at the interface of innovations in science and medicine and the fields of intellectual property, marketing and business development. 

Staff members from Mayo Clinic were impressed by the quality of the students' work, saying the students did a tremendous job researching cutting-edge material and posing the right questions at the end of the presentation for future research and development.

In total, there were nine presentations over two days by MPCC member institutions. 

Now in its eighth year, MISP continues to be an innovative model for student experiential learning. Financial support for MISP is provided by the Medtronic Foundation. Additional funding and support comes from Mayo Clinic, MPCC, CSB and SJU.