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#STEMStories: Dr. Brooke, Biomedical Engineer, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Dr. Brooke Odle. I am a biomedical engineer by training. I am currently a Faculty Fellow in the Department of Engineering at Hope College. In this role, I teach and mentor undergraduate students. My current research project explores the use of neural stimulation to help people with paralysis in their legs transfer across surfaces of different heights. A transfer is moving from one surface to another (like moving from a wheelchair to a bed). To perform a transfer, a person typically places one hand on the surface they want to transfer to and the other on the surface they are sitting on. They use their arms to lift themselves up, turn towards the new surface, and lower themselves onto the new surface. This may eventually lead to wear and tear on the shoulder. I am investigating if the stimulation improves their ability to transfer.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I followed my interests and took advantage of exciting opportunities: As an undergraduate student, I became interested in biomechanics and assistive technology for people with disabilities. I had the opportunity to do research on the strategies used to perform wheelchair transfers. That inspired me to to learn more, so I attended graduate school- earning a Master’s and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering. After earning the Ph.D., I knew that I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to teach and run my own research laboratory. I completed a postdoctoral fellowship, where I could focus on my research interests in biomechanics, rehabilitation, and computational modeling, while gaining new skills in mathematical modeling, experimental data collection, and neural stimulation. While engaged in my postdoctoral research, I mentored undergraduate students. I enjoyed training them and watching them grow as researchers. Since I was focused on research, I did not have a lot of undergraduate teaching experience. I was offered an opportunity to serve as a Faculty Fellow at Hope College, a four-year liberal arts college. This opportunity allows me to gain undergraduate teaching experience, mentor students in research, and learn more about being a professor at a liberal arts college.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Knowing that each day presents me with an opportunity to make a positive impact on others with my teaching and research.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

My faith keeps me grounded in challenging and stressful times. Staying connected to my support system of family, friends, and mentors also helps.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I am fortunate to have many female mentors in STEM who inspire me to dream big.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” - Audre Lorde

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Find the STEM topics that excite you the most and learn as much as you can about them. It’s also OK if your interests change over time. For example: I knew that I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, but I initially wanted to work on artificial organs and tissues. After taking a biomechanics course, I became interested in that and wanted to learn more about it. It put me on my current path.
  2. Find your support system- you need people (family, friends, mentors) who will celebrate with you on good days and encourage you on bad days.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes- it will help you grow.

8. How do you measure your success?

Success is progress. I compare who I am today to who I was at different time intervals (last month, last year, 3 years ago, etc); and if I can see growth, then I am successful.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

My National Center for Biotechnology Information bibliography: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/myncbi/1XiUsqsK-yM13y/bibliography/public/

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Twitter: @BrookeOdle