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Undergrad conducts life-changing research on diabetics

The integration system teaches diabetics how to use a measuring device at home to monitor their blood pressure. "One of my jobs was to create simple, step-by-step instructions for older patients who were not computer savvy."
- Jennifer
Badylak-Reals

It’s not every undergraduate who has the chance to do research that will have a life-altering impact on thousands of people at risk from the side-effects of diabetes. But industrial engineering major Jennifer Badylak-Reals of Plymouth, New Hampshire did.

She carried out key research for faculty member Jenna Marquard of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department on a $2-million NIH project to develop special, low-cost, health-information technology, which allows diabetics to test their blood pressure in the comfort of home and then send those readings automatically to nurses so their medication can be adjusted as frequently as needed.

“One of my jobs was to create simple, step-by-step instructions for older patients who were not computer savvy,” Badylak-Reals explains. “Even for me, it was a little complicated.”

The integration system being tested, including Microsoft HealthVault, teaches diabetics how to use a measuring device at home to monitor their blood pressure, a crucial reading which has many short- and long-term implications for any diabetic’s overall heath. The blood-pressure instrument is plugged into a computer and feeds the readings automatically into each patient’s centralized electronic health records, and from there is sent directly to the patient’s clinicians.

Since the target population for Type 2 diabetics in this NIH study tends to be older and less familiar with technology, the task of Badylak-Reals was especially critical. She identified potential issues for people with limited computer skills, created strategies to improve their comprehension of the instructions, such as adding step-wise procedures or pictures, and developed a survey of the participants to assess the effectiveness.

Never assume that one life-changing experience was enough to quench her thirst to become a well-rounded industrial engineer. In fact, during her four years at the College of Engineering, she also participated in a range of other important learning experiences, including working one summer internship at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, another at Berry Plastics in Easthampton, Mass., and staying active in the UMass Amherst chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Jennifer Baldylak-RealsAmong her other duties at the Children’s Hospital, Badylak-Reals constructed a task list for the Child Life division based on observation of all work performed daily, gathered productivity data in Microsoft Access, designed standardized, step-by-step, maintenance plans for acuity and productivity tools for the medics, and worked up reasonable standards for the number of tasks to be performed by these clinicians each day.

“It’s a big research hospital, and one issue is that they had a lot of tasks to do in addition to their clinical work with the children,” explains Badylak-Reals. “So they wanted to set up a standard for the workloads that their clinicians were doing. It would make sure that they were doing a standard amount of work, but also make certain they weren’t being overworked, because of all the extra research-related tasks they had to perform. That was the big issue for them, being overworked.”

Her other summer internship was something completely different. At Berry Plastics, she tackled a large tool room that basically hadn’t been reorganized in decades and ultimately created a clean, well-marked, safe, and updated tooling area with a concise product spec book.

“The location of the tools was unmarked,” she recalls, “and new employees had a really hard time finding the tools they needed. So I had to begin by inventorying the whole tool room, marking where all the tools were located, and organizing the whole place. Then I went back to the computer and marked the reorganization on the computer, so it was all mapped out correctly, with the locations of tools labeled there.”

For the past four years, Badylak-Reals has also been closely involved in the campus Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and is currently its president. Since SWE has thousands of professional branches made up of women in numerous industries, she has found her time with the campus chapter especially rewarding.

“One thing that was really neat for me was being part of this group made up of engineers and relaxing with them and doing a lot of mutual support,” she says. “It really helps with professional networking too. I found that if I talk to any woman professionally who is a SWE member, then suddenly the doors are wide open there.”

Just so she wouldn’t feel bored while carrying out all these challenging extracurricular activities and maintaining an excellent 3.6 GPA in the demanding industrial engineering program, she has also played on the UMass Lady Zoo Ultimate Frisbee Team and participated in intramural basketball, soccer, and field hockey.

All this activity demonstrates that Badylak-Reals has learned her lessons as an industrial engineer quite well. How else could she have developed such an efficient, well-organized, cost-effective, safe plan for becoming a professional?

College of Engineering