Leah Thomas '22
Class of '22
Former Electrical Design Engineer at Stryker Instruments
Incoming biodesign graduate student
After graduating from the inaugural class of biomedical engineering undergraduates, I worked as a design engineer in the experimental electronics and neurosurgical business units of Stryker Instruments. I was responsible for completing projects related to printed circuit board assembly manufacturing, electrical design work of surgical tools, and data analysis of tools currently used in operating rooms in the European Union and the United States. While working full time, I collaborated with my research team from Virginia Tech to develop a wearable device for patients with lymphedema.
This summer, I will be returning to Blacksburg to join the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics’ inaugural Master of Science biodesign program where I will focus on needs identification and medical device development.
During my senior year, I collaborated with three others to form Virginia Tech’s first fashion show that combines biosensor technology with high fashion. I plan to expand on this work when I return to Virginia Tech. Outside of work, I love to paint and sew!
How did the technical electives and/or service courses you took at Virginia Tech help prepare you for your current role?
One of the most rewarding choices I made was enrolling in as many classes as I could alongside industrial designers. This proved to be an invaluable decision. Courses like Needs Identification in Healthcare and Studio+ expanded my knowledge while transforming the way I perceive collaborative work and individual projects through the lens of design thinking. Being immersed in these classes allowed me to use the artistic and technical facets of my mind in unison. These experiences greatly influenced and enriched my approach to teamwork and individual endeavors. I look forward to carrying those lessons with me into graduate school.
What faculty/professor had the most impact on you and how?
Chris Arena has had an immense impact on my life! He served as my research mentor and professor during my last two years of college and has remained a steadfast supporter and mentor in my life beyond graduation. I met him at a time when I really doubted if I would be a successful engineer, but he saw something in me that I was unable to see at the time. He helped me grow into the engineer that I am today. He has provided connections in my network that have pushed me to higher places. I am incredibly grateful for his dedication and support.
What advice would you share with your college self?
I wish I could tell my younger self that disappointments and failures do not define me as a person. I am still learning that my worth and identity are not solely reliant on academic or professional achievements. A single setback or poor test score should not undermine the core of who I am. College is the perfect place to explore new paths and play with new ideas. I have come to realize that taking myself a little less seriously and adding a healthy dose of playfulness and curiosity can work wonders.
What was a project that you worked on while at Virginia Tech?
As an undergraduate, there were two projects that I grew so attached to that when I relocated from Blacksburg, I couldn't bear to part with them! The first project, LymphaVibe, originally began as a summer internship, but it blossomed into something far greater than we anticipated. As part of a pilot program between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and Carilion Innovations, we focused on rapidly prototyping medical devices to address clinical needs identified by healthcare professionals. Our initial prototype generated an unexpected level of enthusiasm and support, resulting in a worldwide patent, a published paper, and a second-place win in the 5-Minute Pitch competition at the Design of Medical Devices Conference. With this success, our desire has strengthened to bring the device into patients’ hands.
My second project was, without a doubt, my most passionate undertaking to date. BioTech Couture started as a wild dream that brought my vision to life through a futuristic fashion show. Collaborating with a team of four, we co-directed and designed a show that merged our love for high fashion and biosensor technology. The show sold out within a few hours, affirming our belief that design and engineering can be creatively combined to transcend conventional boundaries.
B.S., Biomedical Engineering, Virginia Tech, 2022