Nicole Larsen graduated in December 2014 from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  She majored in Mechanical Engineering.  Nicole and her teammates worked on the Prosthetic Leg Modification Challenge.  Their team was tasked with designing, building, and testing a prosthetic leg that could run, walk, and swim.  Their design featured a woven synthetic polymer sleeve that tightened when tension was applied to ensure the prosthetic would not fall off during these activities and a prosthetic foot that could be adjusted into a swim fin.
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Did you obtain a higher level of education since graduating?  Yes, I received my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Johns Hopkins in May 2018.
Where are you employed?  I work at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH).
What is your job title and what are your job responsibilities?  I am a Biomedical Engineer Lead Reviewer of premarket and postmarket orthopedic device applications. I review the safety and efficacy of orthopedic devices (specifically joint devices like hips, knees, etc.) before they are introduced to the US market. These reviews include ensuring all performance testing has been completed and is satisfactory, and the device design, technological characteristics, biocompatibility, sterilization, and labeling information is provided. I am also a subject matter expert for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reviews of orthopedic devices to ensure a patient who has an orthopedic device is not harmed if they need to receive an MRI scan.
Describe your experience working with QL+. Working with QL+ on my senior project was an extremely rewarding experience. I enjoyed working on a multidisciplinary team and learning from my teammates who had different expertise and interests than me.  As a device reviewer, I work with subject matter experts from many different disciplines to determine the safety and efficacy of orthopedic devices, so working with a multidisciplinary team for my senior project helped me learn how to communicate effectively with colleagues who have different training than me.  The biggest challenge was narrowing down a design and committing to it.  We were constantly working to improve the design and probably should have spent more time building and testing than we did.  It meant a lot to me that we were designing for a specific individual and helped reinforce the good that we as college engineering students could do to hopefully improve, even in a small way, the life of our Challenger.
Did your involvement with QL+ aid in the path you chose to follow after graduation?
Yes, working with QL+ on my senior project reinforced that I wanted to use my engineering degree to help others in as direct a way as possible.  I ultimately want to design prosthetics and work directly with amputees, but my current job as a medical device reviewer is very rewarding.  Even though I am not working directly with patients who use the medical devices I review for safety and efficacy, it’s humbling to know that the work I do ensures that safe medical devices are on the market in the US.
What is your fondest memory of working on the QL+ Challenge? I enjoyed the design and prototype phase the most, when we would have group brainstorming sessions to figure out the best design we could to meet the needs of the Challenger. It was interesting to see how one person’s idea would inspire another idea or someone else would build on it, and I think having people from different engineering disciplines helped us come up with a unique and creative design.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you first started working on the QL+ Challenge?  I would tell myself to come up with a design early and work on fine-tuning the building and testing of it.  The manufacturing process felt rushed and it ended up falling to one teammate in particular, and I think it would have been valuable for me to have spent more time physically building our design than I did.  We were all very happy with the final product, but having more time to build and test our design may have helped move the overall design project forward.
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The purpose of Where Are They Now? is to highlight our QL+ Alumni:  the life-changing work they did to help our Challengers and how their experiences with QL+ shaped their current professions.