Mackenzie Tannhauser is a heart transplant survivor.
“My story with my health journey started when I was about eight years old,” she says. “When I was 12 I had a pacemaker, then when I was 16 I was diagnosed with heart failure and put on the waiting list for a heart transplant. “
After being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and with the progression of his heart disease, Tannhauser regained a healthy heart at the age of 17.
She says the surgery saved her life and changed her life path forever.
“It was actually my own doctor who recommended that I consider biomedical engineering as an option,” says Tannhauser. “They thought I could use my experience as a patient to really help companies shape the future of medical technology.”
Now 27, she is a biomedical engineer at Abbott Labs in Plymouth, working as a clinical field specialist.
His job is to show doctors how to use medical devices like stents for heart patients.
But there’s something else she’s a strong advocate for.
“I’m absolutely passionate about bringing more women and young people into STEM fields,” Tannhauser said.
STEM is the abbreviation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Currently, the US Census indicates that only 27% of STEM workers nationwide are women.
“It’s been like that for a long time. I was the only female in my year in my major twenty-five years ago,” recalls AnnMarie Thomas, professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas. “I think we’ve seen historically that these areas of engineering have been more male-dominated. While we want that to change, we haven’t seen it change nationally.
But Thomas says efforts are underway to get girls in elementary, middle and high school exposed to STEM — and that potential mentors like Tannhauser are leading the way.
“I loved hearing Mackenzie’s story because it’s an example of how your lived experiences as a child can shape your future and shape the career you pursue,” she says. “This is where diversity in STEM becomes our big issue. We want to have all voices, all experiences around the table.
And there is something else.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, as technology becomes more and more important in our lives, the country will need one million more STEM workers by 2030.
“Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, yet they only make up 27% of the STEM workforce,” says Bryan Quick, director of academic relations at Abbott Labs. “That in itself is a crisis.”
He says his company is trying to change that.
Quick says that since 2012, Abbott Labs has hosted about 50 internships per year for high school students.
“We give our students what we call real-world STEM projects, meaningful work to do,” he notes. “It really gives them a glimpse of what STEM careers can really be like. About 70% of our full-time engineers that we hired through our high school STEM internship program were women. So we know that this program works very well.
Abbott Labs says that globally, around 44% of its STEM workforce are women – that figure, around 43% in the US
For his part, Tannhauser says he travels all over the country, at least two days a week.
Not only does it train physicians in the latest heart health technologies, but it also monitors patients enrolled in Abbott’s clinical trials.
Right now, Tannhauser says, she’s volunteering to coordinate STEM outreach events.
“I like to talk about my professional journey and what inspired me to get into STEM, to hopefully spark the interest of other young people,” she says. “I think these are the type of people we want in STEM careers. It takes passion to want a difference.