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Taking Steps Forward

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Strick hopes exoskeleton project will help cerebral palsy, spina bifida patients gain the ability to walk.

As a soccer player at Worthington Christian, Jake Strick (WC ’18) has always been interested in the science of movement.

“I remember taking a physiology class with Mrs. (Dawn) McMahon,” Strick said. “The science of human movement was fascinating to me.”

Flash forward five years, and Strick finds himself working as a graduate assistant at the Cleveland State University’s Center For Human Machine Systems. The Worthington Christian graduate is working on an exoskeleton device that has helped restore movement to adolescents with different muscular diseases while he pursues a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering.

“It is definitely very exciting knowing the work we’re doing is making an impact,” said Strick, who graduated from Ohio Northern University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in biomechanics. “Maybe someday, someone would fully rely on an exoskeleton to walk.

“When this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no. I always tell people this is more like a job than it is like school, but that’s one of the aspects I like about it.”

On top of two weekly classes, Strick works a 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. work schedule. Much of his time is spent hunched over a computer at the Center for Rotating Machinery Dynamics and Control, processing data and analyzing algorithms for an exoskeleton device.

Strick’s favorite part of the week is watching the data being applied to the use of the device in the laboratory.

Cleveland State uses a state-of-the-art motion laboratory with a multitude of sensors and cameras capturing the various kinematics (the branch of mechanics concerned with the motion of objects) and gait physics of volunteers using the machine on a treadmill.

“It’s hard to explain what I do, but I work a lot more in the control architecture side of these medical devices with pediatric exoskeletons,” he said. “I determine when to apply torque and to what joints to best assist the user.

“These exoskeleton devices are typically used for rehabilitation, especially for kids with diseases like cerebral palsy or spina bifida.

“The exoskeleton assists them in walking and training to build up a walking pattern. It’s an alternative to therapist-guided treatments where a person will literally move a kid’s legs. This is a way of automating it a little more, so you get more repetition in an hour (than one could with a therapist).”

According to Strick, Worthington Christian helped prepare him for where he is at this point academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually.

“Academically, Worthington Christian definitely gave me an extremely solid foundation in math and sciences for engineering,” Strick said. “One of the things that has come up recently is how the school prepared me in writing and reading.

“As a researcher, one of the things I do is write and read a lot of research papers. Mrs. (Rhonda) Hearon’s class made me a much better writer. When he read my first paper, my advisor commented on my writing skills.”

Athletically, soccer helped open the doors for Strick at Ohio Northern. Strick looked at bigger schools, but he realized he still had the desire to play soccer.

“ONU wasn’t really on my radar until I decided to continue playing soccer in college,” he said.  “I wouldn’t say I was a very impactful player on the field, but at the same time, I developed some really good friends through soccer.”

Socially, Worthington Christian helped Strick hone his relationships with his teachers.

“Just being at a small school like Worthington Christian, I think developing relationships with your teachers and classmates is more natural. That has carried over into grad school, where it’s important to have good relationships with your professors because that’s how you get through.

“I don’t take many classes where a professor doesn’t know at least my name by the end of it. Those sorts of interpersonal skills with teachers and staff from Worthington Christian is another thing that helped prepare me for grad school.”

Continuing a relationship with a professor led Strick to where he is now. After graduating from ONU, he wasn’t sure what his next step would be.

Strick had applied for a research position at Cleveland State. Although he didn’t get it, the experience put Strick’s name on the school’s radar.

 “(CSU) remembered me and reached out to me, saying they had funding and thought I would be a really good candidate for this program,” he said. “I was kind of weighing my options, and this just ended up being an attractive offer.”

Finally, Worthington Christian developed a spiritual core that sustained Strick during a stormy junior year of college. The rigors of his engineering program increased dramatically. At the same time, Strick struggled to find his place on the soccer team. Then the capper was his father Paul was diagnosed with cancer.

Strick’s faith became his rudder, guiding him through that year.

“I had to work through all of that,” he said. “There was definitely more a sense of hope, knowing we’re not going through something like that alone.

“I kept comparing my faith to a world without Christianity. (Without belief) there isn’t anything you can lean on. Who are you going to pray to or ask for help? You’re at the mercy of what the best the doctors have to offer.”

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