Desire to Make a Global Impact Drives Lauren Matic

March 15, 2005

Through the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program, Lauren Matic, a native of Kenilworth, Illinois, is crafting a career where she can make a difference in the world. Matic graduated from Duke in May 2004 with a double major in biomedical/electrical engineering and a minor in French. She spent the summer evaluating projection technology to set up a new visualization laboratory and assessing the novelty of new head mounted optical microdisplay system, but her real love is the field of biomedical devices.

"My favorite class as an undergraduate was BME 260-Devices for People with Disabilities with Dr. Larry Bohs," said Matic. "It was so exciting to actually make something that helped people."

Matic was struck by how difficult it was for some children to simply play in conventional classrooms. "If everyone is playing on the floor with toys and one child is in a wheelchair, that child can't participate and ends up having to read quietly somewhere out of the way," said said.

Matic created a "playstation" table for children with disabilities. The table could be lowered or raised to suit the needs of children in wheel chairs, and incorporated different kinds of sensory stimulating materials.

"It was rewarding to find ways to help children with disabilities play with toys in the same way as children without disabilities," said Matic. For example, some children may not have the range of motion to scoop up sand and then pour it out. Matic designed a scooping crane for the table that the kids could then dump by touching a button.

"It was amazing how much they enjoyed that crane and the whole playstation table," she said.

These days, she's part of a team trying to win this year's venture capital Duke Start-up Challenge competition, running track and cross-country for Duke, and learning how to finance innovation in a global marketplace.

"It's been awesome to be able to go into Fuqua's business classes as an MEM student," said Matic. "You get access to people with such incredible experience and different background than just engineering."

Matic is working with Fuqua's Gopal Chopra, an Associate Professor of Business Administration and practicing neurosurgeon, to figure out how to make the arduous and expensive task of bringing medical devices into the marketplace more economically efficient.

"Then we're going to take it a step further and figure out how to make it work as well in global markets," said Matic.

She has become keenly aware that people in other countries may have different needs because of cultural and technology infrastructure differences, thanks to her Devices for the Developing World course with BME professor of the practice Robert Malkin. Malkin runs the non-profit Engineering World Health organization, which supplies hospitals with medical equipment and training to use and repair the equipment. The class is developing devices to test if medical equipment is functioning within acceptable parameters.

"You can't just ride in on a white horse, drop off equipment and leave feeling like it's a job well done," said Matic. "New equipment doesn't do any good if the hospital doesn't even have a consistent source of electricity. And equipment does break down—so what happens then?"

It's also important to remember that without proper training, people may use the equipment improperly, possibly causing injury, she notes. "We have to find ways to reach out and help, but also to create sustainability," Matic said.

"I feel like I'm taking all the skills I learned in the past four years as an engineering student and pulling it all together to make engineering useful," said Matic. "Any new technology will never go anywhere if there isn't a business to make it, and I want to know how to make the most out of engineering inventions," she said.

While Matic pursues a master of engineering management she is also able to take advantage of her last year of eligibility on her athletic scholarship. Matic was recruited to Duke's track and cross teams as an undergraduate, but was injured in her freshmen year. In 2004, her senior year, Matic was captain of both teams, and made it to the NCAA regional finals in 2003 and 2004 for the 800 meters event.

After graduating with her Masters in engineering management, Matic says she hopes to join the biomedical devices industry possibly where she can leverage her fluency in French.