Spring semester brought Mind Over Machines our second Baltimore Tracks intern. The program is a collaboration with YouthWorks, Code in the Schools, and Pass I.T. On that works to diversify Baltimore’s tech field. Diversity in all its forms (including age!) is critical to innovation because it challenges us to see the world differently, and that produces value for our clients.
Meet Isonah Marlyse Ngouabe Dlodlo. She has a plan for making biomedical breakthroughs accessible to everyone.
High School Junior
Innovation Explorer, Mind Over Machines
By the time Isonah started high school, she’d lived in South Africa, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, D.C., and of course, Baltimore. Her mom, who works to create affordable housing for single women, was always enrolling her in after-school and summer enrichment programs. Her favorites were FIRST LEGO League and robotics club. “I loved the creative aspect of building robots and seeing them in action, doing what I programmed them to do.”
“Isonah loves to learn and explore. She’s incredibly intelligent, but also kind and caring, especially to those in need. She wants to make a difference, and I know she has the passion and great ideas to do exactly that.”
— Tally Aumiller, MOM Innovation Orchestrator
Isonah’s lightbulb moment came while watching the Ben Carson biopic Gifted Hands. Yes, Carson beat long odds to become the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery in the U.S., but what really captivated Isonah’s imagination was his role as lead neurosurgeon in the first-ever successful separation of twins conjoined at the back of the head. “I just thought that was so cool! I loved medicine and engineering, so I knew my career would combine the two, even before I knew it was an actual, established field. I wanted to create machines that enhance doctors’ performance.” Later, in a Carnegie Institution for Science STEM summer program, she learned the official name for her chosen career path: biomedical engineering.
Meeting Our MINDs:
When Isonah was placed at Mind Over Machines, she thought she knew the internship drill: stand in the back, keep quiet and listen, absorb everything. But the MOM Innovation Team treated her like a professional and an equal. “They wanted to hear my experiences. My voice was important. They gave me the opportunity and space to create.” Intern supervisor Tally Aumiller was “kind, flexible, and invested in my success. (Chief Innovation Officer) Tim Kulp gave me great career advice and lots of resources. He’s so hands-on!”
MOM provides the creative environment, design thinking framework, and Power Platform training. Our interns use that foundation to develop their own passion projects. Isonah’s project has its roots in a presentation a classmate gave in 3rd grade about being an amputee. “Before that, I didn’t really know about amputees and the challenges they have to navigate. Just walking can be difficult and painful.” From there, Isonah started binge-watching videos on prosthetics development. She learned how uncomfortable, inaccessible, and expensive most prosthetics were. She began thinking about how to change that.
Prices range widely based on type and functionality, but a basic prosthetic costs around $10,000. There are companies that make them cheap, fast, and affordable, but Isonah says the problem with these is they are one-size-fits-all. People sacrifice comfort for affordability and then end up not wearing their prosthetic because it’s just too painful.
“We have lidar scanners on our phones now,” Isonah explains. “I want to create a mobile app amputees can use to make 3D models of how a prosthetic would fit.” For example, you could see how a prosthetic hand would fit your arm, how it would press a button or pick up a mug. Using augmented reality, the app could show you where it might rub or pinch, illuminating the literal pain points. From there, the amputee could personalize for their own comfort, selecting softer materials for certain parts. Then, they would place their order for a custom-designed, 3D-printed prosthetic at a fraction of the cost of traditionally manufactured prosthetics.
Over the course of her internship, Isonah put together a proof of concept for her “comfortable, accessible and affordable prosthetics app.” Pushing her intended profession to serve marginalized populations better is something she learned firsthand from her mother. They moved to New Jersey so her mom could build a luxury hotel. But it was seeing the need in the surrounding area that led her mom to shift her focus to creating homey, attractive housing single women could actually afford. Like mother, like daughter.
Isonah is amused by the American perception of boarding schools. “People find out I attend one, and they assume something must be wrong. But in Africa, they’re very common. My mom attended one growing up in Cameroon. I wanted a high school experience like hers where I’d have the freedom and space to grow as an individual.”
However, attending a rigorous boarding school meant Isonah’s internship experience had to be fully remote. It was a lot to juggle, especially in her final weeks with us. “I still have so much I need to do, and my school obligations really limit the time I have to do it! I’d love to spend all day, every day working on this app, but that’s just not possible.”
In addition to practice managing competing priorities and obligations, Isonah gained confidence from working with a team that lives out its commitment to growth mindset: “At MOM, it’s a team effort; everyone is here to learn. I know that might not be the case with all my employers, but I’m so glad this was my first corporate experience because it set a precedent: always expect to be treated with respect. I’ve learned that my voice matters. I am smart enough. I have a lot more confidence in my abilities and thought processes now.”
While she tries not to be too rigid in her life planning, Isonah identified her dream colleges early on. After graduating from high school next year, she’ll be headed to Cornell, UCLA, or Stanford to study biomedical engineering. “I know those are ambitious picks, but I’ve been working toward them as long as I can remember, and I’ve always thought, ‘I can get there!’”
Beyond college, the goal is to improve the lives of those most in need. Isonah knows what she wants to achieve, but she also knows, “Life is an experience. I’ll go where it takes me. If things work out the way I plan, great! If not, I’ll try something else.”