Where Problems Are Opportunities

photograph of Ashley RabaFor Ashley Raba, a senior design project at the Watson School started with an unlikely task: read the newspaper.

Ashley Raba's senior design project at the Watson School began in a somewhat unconventional way.

"We started by reading publications like Newsweek and The New York Times," recalls the 2007 bioengineering graduate. "The idea was to pinpoint an actual problem in society, then turn it into an opportunity to create an innovative solution."

Students were organized into working teams, with each team member taking on a specific role in marketing, finances, technology, or leadership. Each team identified a problem to address, located a real-world company to partner with, and developed a prototype for a design.

"Once we came up with a prototype, we showed it to our business partner to get their feedback," Raba explains. "Then, after two semesters of work, we gave a presentation, demonstrated our product, and talked about what we learned."

For their project, Raba and her team worked to develop database marketing techniques for average businesses. "When you go to amazon.com, the site recommends several other books based on your history," she explains. "Our goal was to bring that type of algorithm to small businesses."

The owner of the business that partnered with Raba's team, a local wine store, was so impressed with the team's results that he asked to keep the software the team developed. "We left him with our prototype," says Raba. "Using our software, he can train his employees to make recommendations to customers, based on their purchase history. Now his employees don't have to be wine experts to make good recommendations."

After earning her bachelor's degree at Watson, Raba decided to stay on for the M.S./Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering. "At Watson, I've learned how to learn, and I wanted to keep going," she ways. "I've learned how to create innovative solutions, and how to create my own path, not just find a job. These are valuable skills that apply to research, clinical work, education-in any career, anywhere."

Last Updated: 11/26/13