Bethel Students Gain Experience Through Innovation Partners

Through work with an early-stage medical company, Bethel business and science students gained hands-on experience that helped them apply their skills and learn outside the classroom.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

May 12, 2022 | Noon

Innovation Partners

The Innovation Partners team of four Bethel University students largely met online over Zoom and was led by MBA student Katharine Knott from the University of St. Thomas. Pictured, starting from the top left, are: Burk Substad ’22, Knott, Isaac Howell ’23, Signe Harris ’23, and Andrew Rolley ’22.

Four Bethel students recently completed a months-long project that offered valuable opportunities to apply classroom lessons and work with a leading health care company. They participated in the 2021-22 Innovation Partners program, part of the broader Innovation Scholars programming that includes the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program. “It’s real-life experience, it’s Mayo projects, it’s startup companies, and you’re getting hired by a company to bring your expertise and your opinion,” says Professor of Applied Health Sciences Seth Paradis, who served as the team’s project mentor.

The Innovation Scholars program gives liberal arts students from Minnesota’s private colleges and universities opportunities to gain hands-on experience in the business development processes of medical innovations. Through Innovation Partners, 11 teams came together—largely virtually—to analyze and recommend next steps for projects that originate at Mayo Clinic or early-stage medical companies. For the project, an MBA student from another university led the team of four Bethel students—two from the sciences and two from business: biokinetics major and Spanish and chemistry minor Signe Harris ‘23, mechanical engineering and business with a finance emphasis double major Burk Substad ’22, biokinetics major Isaac Howell ’23, and business and biblical and theological studies double major Andrew Rolley ’22. The team worked as consultants for InterShunt Technologies Inc., a company aiming to provide relief for patients suffering from heart failure.

The team first met with InterShunt to learn the company’s main objectives, and then team members completed research and work before returning to their startup with recommendations and insights. Due to non-disclosure agreements, students are unable to discuss specifics about the company and project. For each student, the work was largely self-guided each week, but it was very collaborative as the student team met weekly to go over their research. Students put in about 150-160 hours of work from October to March and receive a $1,000 stipend upon completion.

That work leads to valuable experience for students. Substad says he learned how to take information and use it to guide the team’s recommendations for InterShunt. “This really helped me critically think about what direction would best help the company take the next steps for their future,” he says. Substad saw Innovation Partners as a way to incorporate skills from both his majors—mechanical engineering and business. Along with his interest in entrepreneurship, he was curious to learn more about companies in their early stages. Similarly, Howell saw the project as a way to gain firsthand research experience and build valuable connections as he considers his career path. With a background in biokinetics, Howell found the theory behind InterShunt’s work intriguing, but he found it even more interesting to learn how a medical device gets to market. “One thing that I valued most about this experience was the opportunity to see behind the scenes of how a medical device company operates and learn more about what a career would be like in associated fields,” he says.

Rolley’s work focused largely on web design, communication efforts, competitor analysis, and market analysis. The project gave him a firsthand look at consulting work. He and his teammates learned to overcome challenges by taking initiative, working productively, and anticipating problems. “A big lesson learned was the necessity when working on a self-driven project to be able to anticipate problems so that one can keep pace on the project,” Rolley says.

To Paradis, Innovation Scholars programs provide valuable opportunities for students to stretch themselves, learn their boundaries, and gain skills and experience that will help prepare them for careers. Students have learned fundamental skills and knowledge through Bethel courses, but they’re used to learning in environments structured around grading rubrics. These projects push students into less-structured environments and processes, and require them to learn to trust their abilities. On a consulting team, younger professionals often feel like they have to know it all, but Paradis stresses that it’s valuable to learn their strengths and their weaknesses as part of working on a team. “I always tell them to know what you do well, what God gave you the passion, the drive, the ability to do, and bring that to the table, but also acknowledge what you don’t—it’s okay not to know everything,” Paradis says. Then, the students will be better equipped to work with others in groups to utilize the skills and expertise across a team.

“I always tell them to know what you do well, what God gave you the passion, the drive, the ability to do, and bring that to the table, but also acknowledge what you don’t—it’s okay not to know everything."

— Professor of Applied Health Sciences Seth Paradis
As a mentor, Paradis says it’s fulfilling to see that a project like this stretches students. Often, they have to deal with failure—or perceived failure—as they hit dead ends and have to overcome struggles. “That person learns that they do have the ability, not just with this project, not just with Bethel, but post-Bethel, to take very difficult things on and succeed in this world,” Paradis says. It’s that personal development that keeps Paradis coming back to this project each year. And that’s what he stresses to students when telling them about this opportunity. “If you want to challenge yourself, I’m looking for those people,” he says. “If you want to probably learn more than you’ve learned the last three years of your academic career relevant to the application of the tools that you’ve learned at Bethel, this is that opportunity for you.”

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At Bethel, education is more than what happens in the classroom. In any program from science to business, students receive strong instruction and a wide variety of hands-on learning activities to equip them with the skills employers are looking for and the character the world needs.

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