We are very happy to publish a series of blogs from last year's Changemaker Faculty Fellows. This week we are highlighting Dr. G. Bryan Cornwall, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering at USD's Shiley-Marcus School of Engineering. Bryan took part in last year's Changemaker Faculty Fellows program in 2018-2019, below is his reflection on the experience and how it aligns with his current changemaking work. We will be sharing additional blogs from faculty this year.
I’ve wanted to be a Changemaker for as long as I can remember. I have not always had a name for it, but it’s been a driving force in my life: to be an agent for positive contributions to the world. I was born in the USA and grew up in Canada with a global outlook; the term “Global Citizen” resonated with me. My first memorable changemaking experience was through Mechanical Engineering applied to Orthopaedic medicine. I want to provide you with a perspective of the past, present, and future influences that help drive this motivation towards Changemaking. So what is a “Changemaker”?
“Changemaker (n) – A term coined by the social entrepreneurship organization, Ashoka, meaning one who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen. The term changemaker is simple to understand, just from the words it's made from.”
In my third year of undergraduate Engineering, one of my Professors asked me what I was planning to do next. I told him I wanted to be a doctor and go into medicine. I explained my father and paternal grandfather were Engineers and my mother was an operating room nurse. This Professor advised me that you can make a positive contribution to medicine by being a good Engineer. That simple statement had a profound effect on my outlook, and it literally changed my life.
After completing a PhD in orthopedic biomechanics, I spent 20 years working in the medical device industry: designing, patenting, researching, delivering devices and services to patients all around the world. In the last two years of my industry career, I was fortunate to lead two not-for-profit entities which helped me transition from an executive role in industry to an academic role at a university. The focus on “Changemaking” at USD was very attractive to me.
The USD trip to Guadalajara, MX and to the fellow Changemaker campus: Tec de Monterey was a fantastic culmination of our journey this past year as Changemaker Faculty Fellows. Our hosts started by complementing USD on our model and experience as a Changemaker campus and went on to show us some amazing evolution and growth in their program. Their student examples were outstanding, their design spaces were welcoming, and their vision is inspirational. One thing I did notice is that their efforts seemed more fragmented than ours at USD. My perception is that we have a more cohesive Changemaker presence on campus.
We met two inspiring social ventures and registered as Mexican B-corps: Sarape Social, a socially conscious marketing firm, and Proactible, a center for rehabilitation orthotics and prosthetics. The focus and passion of the Sarape Social team was infectious. The Proactible company was particularly impactful because this company represented the intersection of research, social entrepreneurship, and commercial entity… in my area of research: biomechanics. While we were introduced to the company and what they do in person, the academic behind the initiative, a Mechanical Engineering Professor from Tec de Monterrey, Dr. Joel Huegel, was on the webinar. He was interacting with us real-time, but virtually from a lab in Boston where he is a visiting professor of Mechatronics: the famous MIT Media Lab with Biomechanics research.
The other significant and personally impactful aspect of the visit to Proactible was the use of the Niagara foot. This prosthesis was designed in Canada specifically with a social mission of benefiting vulnerable populations of low income. My PhD supervisor, Dr. Tim Bryant, was involved in the development effort for years. I explained how proud I was that my PhD supervisor was involved in the development of a device and product that has benefited so many patients, especially patients who may not necessarily be able to benefit from such technology without the focus on a low-cost functional alternative. JC made a profound comment: “How is that for a demonstration of legacy”? Oh, by the way, Dr. Tim Bryant was the same influential professor who changed my life with that simple comment in my third year of undergraduate Engineering.
Future work: As I continue to build a biomechanics lab and capabilities at USD SMSE, I continue to network and collaborate. For Changemaking Engineering, Dr. Joel Huegel and I have similar research interests and we have similar teaching responsibilities (senior design in Mechanical Engineering). We have discussed a collaborative design project with a San Diego spine surgeon colleague (Dr. Gregory Mundis) who is the Medical Director of Global Spine Outreach. They have experience in establishing spine deformity outreach sites in Columbia and Mexico. The third site they are targeting is a hospital and clinic in Guadalajara, MX. I plan to be a positive influence, a Changemaker Engineer, helping to link the Engineering Sciences with medical applications for populations in need. We are exploring funding opportunities to have our two labs working together.
What was significant for me about the trip to Tec de Monterrey in Guadalajara was that it tied together past and present. Visiting Proactables and meeting Dr. Joel Huegel provided clarity for my present and future research and collaborations. It reinforced how important the identity of “Changemaker” is to my identity and potential to influence the next generation of Engineers.