Champions in the Pool and in the Classroom

October 15, 2013

By Dave Brandon  | Courtesy, Brandon’s Blog


There are student-athletes that distinguish great teams. These men and women are all-conference picks, All-Americans and in some cases Olympians. They help lead and drive their teammates to excellence and oftentimes championships.

We all love the great games, the great plays and the great players, and we want to win championships.

There is another aspect to the lives of these student-athletes that we do not witness. These men and women are the individuals that not only help bring championships and kudos to their campus for their athletic feats, they are the ones in the classroom that help their university realize its educational mission — and in the case of the University of Michigan, make it one of the top universities in the world.

Swimmers Connor Jaeger (a two-time national champion and 2012 U.S. Olympian) and Sean Ryan (gold medalist at 2013 World University Games) teamed to help Michigan win a national championship this past March. Now they are teaming up with professor Albert Shih to develop and explore the possibilities of using additive manufacturing to create an orthotic prototype.

The two swimmers are using a system of 3-D scanning of an individual’s foot, ankle and knee, with those images processing on a computer. With this information, they can design a custom-made orthotic on a computer using 3-D imaging software. A 3-D printer will then issue the design layer-by-layer instead of using raw materials and several different molding processes.

The idea behind this project is to develop a grant to show that this methodology not only will be a way to save time and money, but it will be a better way to build orthotics and create 3-D prosthetics in the same manner.

The concept of developing prosthetics by a 3-D printer is a win-win idea. Someone needing a prosthetic could require a number of visits to a hospital that specializes in this care. While we are fortunate to have the University of Michigan Orthotic and Prosthetic Center here in Ann Arbor, there are very few of these types of hospitals in the world.

For instance, someone missing a limb needs a very specific geometry to their arm that a socket needs to fit onto; one size does not fit all. It could take a couple of visits to get the proper fit. And for patients living miles away, the multiple trips take an enormous amount of time.

Getting a scan of the geometry and receiving CT or MRI scans to get underneath the muscular structure, the fat and the bone would enable building a prosthetic limb on the 3-D printer the first time.

And, by the way, while Jaeger and Ryan work on the mechanical engineering portion of the project, Jordan Morgan from our men’s basketball team is assisting on the financial aspects of the project.

That’s the plan and they are doing this and more in the academic setting as they work to better themselves as competitive athletes.

There are four members of the U-M men’s swimming and diving team in mechanical engineering — Connor, Sean, David Moore and James Ross. Together they have been on three different mechanical engineering projects — and according to Jaeger and Ryan, Moore is the ‘All-American’ of the group when it comes to ‘engineering smarts.’

Understand our swimming team takes to the Canham Natatorium pool four days a week from 6-8 a.m. Then the mechanical engineering students take the bus to North Campus for classes, returning no later than 3 p.m. for the afternoon practice from 4-6 p.m.

Talk about time management. Talk about focus. The student-athletes of today are developing the mindset of how they must plan, prepare and work toward a goal.

The mission statement of the University of Michigan is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.

There are many of our student-athletes who are receiving awards and recognition for their performances in the classroom, so there are many impressive stories! Connor and Sean’s orthotic project is just one of many stories that remind us of why we call these individuals STUDENT-athletes and why we are so proud of those who compete for Michigan.

Go Blue!


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