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Senior explores 3D printing, prosthetics during independent study

With the help of a simulation prosthetic, Schonfeld puts herself in the shoes of her potential future patients.
July 22, 2014

Molly Schonfeld literally put herself in the shoes of an amputee while conducting research for her summer independent study on prosthetics. Attempting to walk while wearing a prosthetic simulator – even with the support of parallel therapy bars – was a challenge.

“It is so much harder than you would think it is,” she said. “There was a lot more thinking involved.”

She discovered the device, meant to help family members understand what loved ones go through as they learn to walk again after an amputation, while touring Harry J. Lawall & Son, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pa. 

After seeing the company’s 3D printers, which are used to make custom prosthetic limbs, she was inspired to write her final paper about 3D printing and prosthetics. 

“We think of prosthetics as arms and legs, but now with 3D printing, they’re making organs. We’re graduating students who may be on the initial part of this future in medicine,” said faculty member David Petrie, who leads the “Animating Life” study tour in Walt Disney World over Jan Term.

Schonfeld, who knows firsthand the struggle of regaining control of her life after discovering she suffers from a rheumatological condition at a young age, is ready to join those frontlines.

“I had a personal experience with occupational therapy that changed my life incredibly and I want to be able to change somebody else’s life the way mine was changed,” she said.

Senior explores 3D printing, prosthetics during independent study
Senior Molly Schonfeld’s independent study ignited her interest in prosthetic devices created with a 3D printer.

Planning to turn her Exercise Science and Physical Education degree into a career in Occupational Therapy, Schonfeld teamed up with Petrie to plan “Introduction to Prosthetics.” 

Petrie compared the independent study to an internship, explaining that it can encourage students to ask themselves, “Do I really want to do this?”

For Schonfeld, the answer is a resounding yes. Working from her home in Wallingford, Pa., the senior researched biomechanics, anatomy, amputation and medical history and corresponded on her findings with Petrie via email. This one-on-one interaction with professors is one of the reasons why she chose to attend McDaniel College.

“All of these little experiences put together will one day make me a good therapist,” she said. 

Petrie agrees. With the increasing need for occupational therapists who can work with wounded veterans, people with diabetes and others who may need prosthetics, Schonfeld will be well positioned to apply to Occupational Therapy school after this experience.

The independent study leaves her one step closer to her dream, empowered to take on the senior capstone experience in the fall – which she might do on 3D printing or prosthetics – and excited to begin applications to graduate school.