Having his cake and eating it, too

Oct 6, 2006

A co-op job at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago turns student Sam Perlmutter into a bio-medical researcher with Ph.D. plans.

Co-op: bringing theory and practice together. For generations, the corner of Third and Chevrolet avenues in Flint has been a haven for smart students who are curious, willing to work and determined to apply their knowledge in the real world.

Senior Sam Perlmutter is among the new generation experiencing the best of co-op. The Detroit native wasn't even planning to go to college until Gautam Pathak '00 of Corsa Performance in Ohio told him about his alma mater and its co-op possibilities. The dream of hands-on work with race cars suddenly became a real possibility and revved up Perlmutter's interest. "I arrived here and found out I was learning a thousand things at work," he said. "The rest is just a lot of lucky instances."

A Mechanical Engineering major, Perlmutter was on his way to a co-op job at a machine shop in Chicago when the alumna he was going to meet couldn't make their meeting. She asked a scientist friend to meet the student - and the young man's life changed forever. "I just really hit it off with the scientist and he asked me if I wanted to go up the street and see where he worked. The "where" was the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago/Northwestern University Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science, he said.

He became a research assistant at Northwestern and started working on a project that tested elbow injuries on cadaver arms. The research studied elbow injuries in throwing athletes, a problem that is of interest for baseball and football team surgeons. "When I found out that the injury I would research was the one that I had sustained my freshman year during a snowboarding accident, it was apparent to me that I had made the right move into the bio-medical field," Perlmutter said.

Top 10 Co-op Employers:
General Motors, 230
Bosch Corp., 66
UPS, 66
TRW, 44
Kettering University, 42
Delphi Corp., 32
Ford Motor Co., 31
Borg-Warner, 29
Copeland Corp., 27
Faurecia, 27

After a year and a half of designing a test protocol, testingdevice, actual experimental testing, analysis of data and up to 90-hour work weeks, the findings were "revolutionary," he said. "The group I worked with gave me full responsibility while helping me develop into a researcher. They have given me more than enough credit on the work we have done together," he said.

Why? "The secret ingredient," Perlmutter explained, "is my Mechanical Engineering background. ME gives you such a broad opportunity - it makes you ready to take on anything."

The research results from the Chicago project were so impressive that Ohio State University flew Perlmutter back from his study abroad term in Germany to present his research at a bio-mechanics conference during the summer. There were experts from Belgium, England, Asia and the United States at the conference. "I was the only undergraduate presenter from around the world. It was an amazing experience but I made sure they knew it was Kettering's co-op program and the learning environment at Northwestern that had brought me there," he said.

Perlmutter will graduate from Kettering this year and is finishing up projects on campus including being a founding member of Kettering's new Entrepreneur Society. He hopes to attend Northwestern University to earn a doctorate in physical therapy and a Ph.D. in bio-medical engineering. "I'm going totry to open up the doors between Kettering and the bio-medical field," he said. "It's the difference between the esthetics of a designer and the practicality of being an engineer. It's sort of like having your cake and eating it, too," he concluded.

Written by Pat Mroczek
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