Bringing Mechanics to Medicine, Co-Op Finds Flexibility

Benjamin Mellema wanted hands-on design experience and the ability to create things. In choosing his most recent co-op, the fourth-year mechanical engineering major found the perfect place – Boehringer Laboratories, a small company in Phoenixville, PA, that makes surgical devices for bariatric weight loss surgery.

Benjamin Mellema
Benjamin Mellema

“A really interesting thing about this company is that almost every single person in the Engineering Department, about eight of us, was a Drexel co-op at one point,” Mellema notes. “The job description had in all caps that you would get real hands-on experience and a lot of it, so that very interesting to me.”

He is currently helping the company with two big projects. The first is a device for hernia repair.

“We are working on a way to dissect the layers of the abdomen so they can repair hernias. We were kind of experimenting and tried adding a little blade attachment to an electric toothbrush to separate the layers,” Mellema says. “Another thing we tried was an extending needle that would attach to a syringe and inject fluid to separate the layers.”

The team is still experimenting with the best method, but Mellema is grateful to have seen the process up close. The second project he is working on is a device that measures the small intestine for surgery.

“We’re making this plastic straw and we cut it into a T shape and each of the wings are five centimeters long. You can attach that to an instrument and use it to measure the small intestine inside the body,” he explains.

“A really interesting thing about this company is that almost every single person in the Engineering Department was a Drexel co-op at one point.”
Benjamin Mellema

After being in such an interesting area of work that allowed him to be self-taught and flexible, Mellema knows what values he needs to bring to his daily college life.

“The biggest thing that I’m learning that I’m excited to bring back to my classes is having real design experience and being able to work with the tools in the shop and work with different materials,” he says. “This job also taught me a lot about professionalism. I’m a very goofy person and this helped me learn to turn on a professional mindset.”

The Drexel co-op experience gives students the opportunity to explore different areas that major-related classes wouldn’t cover. For Mellema, working at a biomedical company has given him the chance to combine mechanical engineering with anatomy and biology.

“The company is a biomedical company so I’m learning a lot of anatomy and a lot of biology which I didn't think I would get the chance to learn about during my time here and it's really interesting to me,” he says. “It's something that I might look into for the future because I do enjoy the work.”