Despite the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, for Kelsey Williams ’21, it has opened a door to a rewarding internship experience. The physics major, who has a minor in chemistry, participated in the Biomedical Engineering Virtual Summer Internship sponsored by Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University along with 500 participants across the country.
“As part of the 10-week research project, I worked with students from Cornell, Arizona State and Case Western University on a design challenge to develop a solution to address the need for enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) to limit the spread of COVID,” says Williams, a Blackwell Scholar and Teaching Fellow. “Our group specifically worked on creating an online source for people to get access to well-researched specialized solutions for mask-caused irritations and help spread awareness on recent study findings on PPE.”
The internship was done virtually, with weekly Zoom webinars and presentations on biomedical topics, given by engineering professionals and entrepreneurs in areas related to biomedical research and technology. Williams augmented the Zoom sessions with research that assessed user needs, measuring functional and technical specifications and then creating a final design.
“At the conclusion of the internship, all groups contributed to the ‘pitch competition’ where we sent in a virtual presentation of our final products so they could be evaluated by Case Western professors,” she says.
The biggest challenge for Williams was building a prototype for the design project virtually. “When trying to construct a physical model, collaboration was harder since we could not all work on it at the same time,” she says. “However I found it very rewarding to work on a summer-long project that had direct application to the current world-wide crisis.”
The internship wasn’t Williams’ first scientific project. In 2019, she participated in a chemical engineering research project focused on optimizing hydrogen alternative energy production with the University of Arkansas.
Williams applied for the competitive internship when searching for a way to combine her interest in learning more about her field while also helping with pandemic remediation. “I felt this opportunity would allow me to learn about biomedical engineering as well as to contribute to COVID-19 research,” she says.
According to Robert Kirsch, chair of the Case Western University Department of Biomedical Engineering, the internship gave some of the nation’s top students the opportunity to meet with top biomedical engineering experts. “It’s been an honor and a privilege working with these amazing, driven students,” he says. “We are heartened by the response the internship has received, and humbled by the opportunity to serve and educate the next generation of biomedical engineers.”