Alumni Profile: Biomedical Engineer, Jo Forst ’13

Jo Forst (‘13) is currently Associate Market Development Manager in the Cardiovascular Division at Medtronic, a major medical technology and services corporation. Jo graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in biomedical engineering. After graduation, she attended the University of Rochester where she obtained a Master of Science degree in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in neuroscience. Her first position at Medtronic was in the neuro modulation division, which focuses on the development of implantable stimulators for restorative medical therapies. Restorative medical therapies can include, for example, deep brain stimulation to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Recently she transitioned to the diagnostic business unit within the Cardiovascular Division and works in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis, MN.  In her new role, she is called upon for marketing analytics where she uses her research and technical background.

As a market development manager, Jo works to increase awareness and expand the market opportunity for the use of Medtronic’s cardiovascular devices. Her main project expands the use of an implantable cardiac monitor (ICM) for patients who have had a cryptogenic stroke. A common cause of cryptogenic stroke is atrial fibrillation which originates in the left atrium of the heart. The Medtronic device is 1/3 the size of a AAA battery, and through a minimally invasive technique, sits just under the skin to continuously monitor the heart and detect arrhythmias. Jo’s work focuses on helping overcome barriers in ensuring patients have access to these kinds of diagnostic options. This task involves working with both stroke neurologists, who see cryptogenic stroke patients, and with electrophysiologists who implant the devices and track patients once they receive a long-term cardiac monitor. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Jo.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

 The work I do directly impacts Medtronic patients and customers. Therefore, the most rewarding part of my job is when I get to work with physicians using our devices that improve quality of life for their patients. We are consistently developing new technology which allows us to stay more connected and expands access to more people in need.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

One of my favorite activities was working with Hope’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The trip to Cameroon and the work with the local NGO and community members had a lasting impact on me. It helped shape how I view education and sustainability management. In order for work to be sustainable there needs to be a sense of ownership and passion behind the cause. Connecting with people of all different backgrounds helped me value the importance of inclusion, diversity, and teamwork.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

My time in the Rehabilitation Engineering Lab [performing research with Professor Katie Polasek] was paramount to my engineering education. I utilize the clinical research experience and critical thinking skills every day in my job. My research experience helps set me apart from my peers and allows me to provide a well-rounded perspective for business needs.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I interact with individuals from across many different functional areas and business units regularly. A liberal arts education provided a well-rounded perspective in which I was able to learn and interact with students across other disciplines. As an engineering student, I took advantage of neuroscience courses with other life science students, played a college sport, and performed multidisciplinary research. These experiences, I think, were unique to a liberal arts education.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved and take advantage of opportunities to gain project management and leadership skills outside the classroom. These opportunities are plentiful at Hope and will set you apart after graduation.

Alumni Profile: Applications Engineer Kurt Blohm ’06

Kurt Blohm (‘06) is currently an applications engineer at Applied Biomimetic, a company based in Cincinnati, OH, with a unique focus on the development of membranes for water treatment and filtration systems. Kurt graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in chemical engineering. He started his career at ERG, an environmental consulting firm, while also working to obtain his Master of Science degree in chemical engineering at Ohio State University, which he completed in 2010. Kurt has enjoyed a wide variety of experiences including working as a process engineer at an ethanol plant (Valero Renewables), working for a water treatment startup company (Advanced Hydro), and working as a scientist focused on research and development (Battelle).

Kurt Blohm at work. Photo courtesy Applied Biomimetic, Inc.

Kurt describes himself as a chemical process engineer, but his role also includes a healthy dose of sales and business development. In his current role, he travels regularly to customer sites to develop new applications for Applied Biomimetic’s filtration products. His diverse responsibilities also allow him the opportunity to perform research and development work in a laboratory setting, and to design, build, and operate pilot systems to evaluate the success of Applied Biomimetic’s membranes in separating various flow streams. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Kurt.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

I’ve had a range of experiences, from process engineering to R&D and now business development. On any given day, I could be programming a PLC [programmable logic controller], studying protein separation/purification in the lab, or in another country talking to customers. I’ve also had the opportunity to develop my own novel ideas as I have several patents pending in the area of seawater desalination from my time at Battelle. This versatility is a big part of who I am, not just professionally, but personally.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

Engineers without borders was an amazing experience. It helped me realize the value of my education and grew my interest in water and energy. The summer research program is a great way to gain experience and get to know your professors’ research interests.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

The professors in the sciences are truly top notch. Dr. Misovich was a great mentor and example to me. I could say equally great things about the rest of the faculty, but I had the most exposure to Dr. M.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I think Hope College engineers have a sense of community that I don’t see at other institutions and the same goes for the sports teams (I was on the swim team at Hope). Liberal arts colleges draw that kind of person, but Hope College students are especially community and service oriented.

What advice would you give to current students?

  1. Don’t be overly concerned with grades. If you have a weak subject or two, learn the main concepts and move on.
  2. Get hands on experience as soon as possible, through internships or for example, working in construction.
  3. For chemical engineers: I firmly believe every career chemical engineer should work as a process engineer at a refinery or production plant for some time (or, for example, as a shift supervisor). You should know the plant inside and out by the time you leave – every valve, pump, vessel and control loop. Get to know all the operators, mechanics, and electricians on a personal level because and you can learn a lot from their perspective.
  4. For students pursuing R&D and academia paths, I defer to Richard Feynman: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”