What their bodies (and summer schedules) can handle

Grant Ryerse, Emily Brown, and Jacob Herbers in the Medical Devices Center
Grant Ryerse, Emily Brown, and Jacob Herbers gather in the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center on campus.

For Golden Gopher student-athletes, summer isn’t necessarily a time of rest and relaxation, much less long days at the beach. There are the requisite off-season workouts, plus classes to take to stay ahead of the game, so to speak.

And in the case of three athletes—football players Jacob Herbers and Grant Ryerse and women’s hockey player Emily Brown—there’s also a challenging internship this summer focused on medical devices product development.

The three Gophers, working on a team with one other intern, have been tasked with developing a device (similar to a Fitbit) that can capture physiological data like heart rate and body temperature and be incorporated into existing athletic equipment. The first part of the summer has been dedicated to researching the device’s feasibility, determining if an existing device could be adapted for the need, and exploring the intellectual property (IP) landscape.

It’s a perfect fit for three student-athletes with majors in mechanical engineering and a passion for improving performance.

Student-athletes “are always looking for internship opportunities in the cities or even research opportunities on campus, so this was a perfect fit,” says Herbers. “The internship is on campus, and you’re getting really great experience and continuing to hone in on your engineering skills.”

"The draw of this is to work on medical devices—which we’re all interested in—and continue to hone our engineering and learn more about product development in the medical device space." — Jacob Herbers

Brown points out that working with her internship group is a nice extension of the teamwork inherent in hockey. “You all bring different skills and experience to that team,” she says. “Applying those concepts to more of the academic setting has been really fun.”

In addition to the guidance of their internship director, the athletes have also had the counsel of project sponsor Ben Utecht (a former Golden Gopher and NFL player) and mentor Adam Black, a former Medical Devices Center innovation fellow.

“The people here give you the support you need,” says Ryerse, “but they let you be independent too.”

The three athletes (all Academic All­­–Big Ten honorees) weren’t able to share what designs they have in mind for their proposed device—sharing intellectual property is like sharing a football playbook, after all—but there is definitely a plan.

“We do have a direction going forward of what we envision for our product,” says Herbers. “We feel that, based on the IP landscape, it’s a niche in the market that we can pursue.”