Texas A&M: Helping Others Walk Toward A Brighter Future

Shawanee’ Patrick is passionate about giving everyone the ability to walk as comfortably and effectively as possible through the use of walking assistive devices, such as prosthetics and orthotics.

A Ph.D. student in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, Patrick was inspired to help develop better walking assistive devices by the partial paralysis of her grandmother. She is determined to make a positive impact on the lives of the people she works with, as well as the thousands more like them.

Patrick earned her undergraduate degree in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M before earning her master’s degree in the mechanical engineering department. She has been advised in her Ph.D. program by Douglas Allaire, associate professor and Sallie and Don Davis ’61 Faculty Fellow, and former mechanical engineering faculty member Pilwon Hur.

Her research focuses on developing and refining walking assistive devices by determining what inputs are important and outcomes that could improve the design process.

“I like to say my research is about how to help people who can’t walk be able to walk, and how to help those who do walk, walk better,” Patrick said. “That’s kind of my tagline. Walking improves the quality of life, so it’s really important we help those facing challenges when we can.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to Patrick’s research as well. Patrick’s research — which works with human studies — had been delayed several times by the health and availability of her subjects.

Patrick said the process of conducting her research includes investigating the user’s needs from various angles. From the perspective of the user themselves to their physician and family members, Patrick said it is necessary to build a complete picture of them.

“Getting a whole picture of your true stakeholders, seeing what their needs are, how they walk, and how much you can actually improve the walking is essential,” Patrick said. “It has been really great to work with people who could directly benefit from the work.”

Patrick said one of the most rewarding aspects of the work comes from the enthusiasm and desire for collaboration that she has seen in the people she works with. Often, she has been inspired by their interest, not only in the potential outcomes but also in the process of creating a better, more intuitive prosthetic.

Although the specific project she is working on will not be going to market, Patrick said she is hopeful that the research she is conducting could one day influence the development of a product that makes its way to those who could greatly benefit from the support.

“I’m a woman on a mission to truly help people make a difference in people’s lives in some way, form or fashion,” Patrick said. “And that’s kind of always been my M.O. It’s a blessing for me to be able to do work to help others. I feel like that can lead me to a fulfilling work experience in the future.”

In addition to her research, Patrick is also a passionate educator. She is one of 10 Aggies recognized as a 2021 Distinguished Graduate Student for teaching by The Association of Former Students.

“Shawanee’ is a passionate and dedicated researcher as well as an exceptional teacher,” said Allaire. “I look forward to learning about the impact she is sure to have in her career.”

Looking ahead, Patrick looks forward to pursuing a career in academia where she can continue to teach and further her research.

“I really love to teach,” Patrick said. “I think it’s really important to focus on the person, the students I’m mentoring and making sure to give them the information they need so that they are confident in their skills and they are confident when they leave.”

Having successfully defended her dissertation — during which she was able to acknowledge her grandmother’s impact on her and her research — Patrick is headed to The Ohio State University, where she received the LEGACY postdoctoral fellowship. While she will miss those who have supported her in her journey at Texas A&M, Patrick said she is excited for all that lies ahead.

“I have worked really hard for this moment and had a lot of ups and downs along the way,” Patrick said. “I had over 35 people attend my defense and many more who supported me that were not present. I hope in the future at Ohio State I can continue to grow as an educator and researcher, helping people to move forward —physically, intellectually and every way.”

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