Mentoring program offers peek at possible future in biomedical engineering


LaShanti Davis and Neriah Licata

Middle school student LaShanti Davis updates her UA student mentor Neriah Licata on the progress she’s made on her project to improve the comfort of crutches.

Local seventh graders are developing a massager for sickle cell anemia patients, collapsible safety goggles, a “cool” cast and other next-generation medical devices. What more could you expect from a bunch of engineer hopefuls?

University of Akron biomedical engineering student mentors and their Akron Public School seventh-grade protégés have been gathering for a meeting of minds each week at Buchtel Community Learning Center. After two months of hands-on work, these dynamic duos will meet for a final time this week to put finishing touches on their inventions.

Steve Conklin with Zion Johnson

Biomedical engineering student Steve Conklin explains to middle school student Zion Johnson how circuits work.

The students will join more than 100 other students from around northeast Ohio to present their innovations to the public at the BEST (Bridging Engineering, Science and Technology) Medicine Engineering Fair, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 14, at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School, 199 S. Broadway Street, Akron.

Thanks to a $14,125 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, 22 seventh graders, 10 sixth graders and 10 eighth graders from Buchtel Community Learning Center and the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School have designed projects for the fair under the guidance of UA biomedical engineering undergraduates and through the BEST Mentoring Program. The experience, on all fronts, is best described by those it is impacting.

Win-win for students and mentors

“Steve has taught me a lot about mechanics and electrical stuff. I like knowing that I can help others through my work. When I graduate, that’s what I want to do,” says Zion Johnson, a seventh grader working with BEST mentor Steve Conklin, a first-year UA biomedical engineering major and member of the Honors College.

Conklin, from Montville, says his own middle school did not offer a science fair or similar opportunities when he was a youngster. “I’m happy to be able to help these students. I look forward to seeing their progress each week. It’s the highlight of my week.”

Dr. Brian Davis, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UA, describes the BEST Mentoring program as a win-win situation for all involved.

“Our undergraduate students develop leadership skills, and the Akron middle school students get to see STEM in practice,” says Davis. “This kind of team effort, with the support of teachers, parents, UA faculty and dozens of volunteers and judges, is necessary to host a successful BEST Medicine Engineering Fair and to prepare the next generation to contribute to Ohio’s economy through bioinnovation."

Media contact: Denise Henry, 330-972-6477 or