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BME Graduate Student Mark Calhoun Gives a Helping Hand


Mark Calhoun, a current graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering Department here at Ohio State, received his Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

While at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Mark teamed up with fellow BME student Jacob Price (currently a Staff Validation Engineer for Performance Validation in Indianapolis, IN) on a design project that would change a young boy’s life.

The goal of Mark and Jacob’s project was to design, build and test a solution for their client, Daniel Wilson, which would allow him to do everyday tasks that a lot of us take for granted. Daniel is an outgoing and spirited young boy who was born with a very short forearm with two fingers at the end of his right arm, which makes it difficult to do things like pick up a cup or ride a bike, for instance. With Daniel’s input, the solution took the form of a prosthetic which could bend at the elbow, rotate at the wrist and open and close a hand-like mechanism.

When asked what influenced him to become a biomedical engineer, Mark so confidently answered: 

“I decided on this major because I thought it’d be cool to see the astonished look on people’s faces when I tell them that I’m a biomedical engineer. Just kidding. I think I’ve always been on the track to a career in engineering. When I was young, my favorite toys were Legos and when I wasn’t busy building some cool thing from my imagination, or drawing out some crazy futuristic invention, I was taking something apart trying to figure out exactly how it worked. I would say the biomedical part comes from more of a sense of duty and fulfillment. My parents often sent me and my brothers to camps during the summers to keep us from playing video games all day, and one summer we went to a camp for kids with disabilities, and it was really an enlightening experience for me because I got to see first-hand that these kids weren’t all that different from me. If anything, we were more alike than different, we all smile when we’re happy, get sad when life knocks us down and enjoy a good joke. I guess I just always had a soft spot in my heart when it came to people with disabilities because of that experience and as I grew older, that matured into a sense of responsibility. It was like this is my way to make a difference in the world and it’d be incredibly foolish to waste such a great opportunity. During the project with Daniel, I found how all the engineering equations and countless hours spent in the classroom translated to making a real difference in real people’s lives. That was definitely the coolest part of the project, seeing Daniel light up whenever we came to visit and talk about the prosthetic and just seeing the tremendous gratitude from his whole family. That’s when I began to realize, this is the kind of thing I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And I’m going to love it.”

During the spring of 2011, Mark’s dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. And during that subsequent summer, Mark watched as his dad went through the tumultuous process of chemotherapy while simultaneously quitting smoking after over 20 years of being a smoker. At the beginning of the process, Mark was shocked when his dad told him that this is what he lived for.  Mark realized that when he began taking on challenges that life throws at him, and was able to overcome them, he built a lot of character and really learned what kind of person he was and what he was really made of. “That’s life,” Mark’s dad told him in regards to the challenge he had to face with colon cancer. During the following fall Mark took on a challenge of his own, along with Jacob, to build this prosthetic for Daniel. And though the process proved a tendency towards disequilibrium and adversity, he found that his dad was right. This is what it’s all about.

According to Mark, “the idea is to embrace these challenges life tosses our way, not avoid them, and in doing so better ourselves and/or the world around us.”

Mark has been eyeing graduate school at Ohio State for many years.  One of the biggest things he said he noticed about research is that much of it falls into a category that’s “really cool”, but doesn’t have a lot of clinical application. Ohio State immediately attracted his attention being a world-class University with institutions right on campus such as the Wexner Medical Center and the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, where a lot of BME faculty work. Mark felt that this would create an atmosphere where the research would be strongly based on the problems that clinicians find in the field, and he was right. Mark was also drawn to the great sense of community, tradition and Buckeye pride here on campus. Go Bucks!

Mark’s goals for the future are to eventually own his own company that deals with skin tissue engineering to benefit those who have been burned in fires or have been diagnosed with skin conditions which adversely affect quality of life and would also like to make it to Italy someday.  His reason for Italy: “I hear that place is beautiful.”

To see a video of Mark and Jacob's design project, click here.