Bessel Origin Alumni Profiles: Meet Ann Vogel
By Chris Danek
This spring, Ann Vogel was finishing her undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. For her final year, she decided to enroll in a Social Innovation class that included the intensive Bessel Origin program within the second semester. What did she learn from her Bessel Origin experience? How did the program change her perspective on her career, her interests, and her potential as an engineer? We asked Ann to share her Bessel Origin story.
Ann had done plenty of mock projects as part of her coursework. She’d taken marketing classes where she’d been asked to envision a customer and anticipate what the customer would need. She’d worked with her classmates to design products and deliver plans.
But she’d never worked on real-world projects, with input from real customers, live feedback from stakeholders, shifting timelines and goals, and evolving parameters. Bessel Origin was transformative for Ann because she learned what it’s like to work on a project outside the classroom. She saw first-hand that real-world business projects are messier and more dynamic than textbook case studies. Because of that experience applying design thinking fundamentals to real-world scenarios, Ann says she feels better prepared to contribute immediately in the working world.
Plus, she gained some pretty high-profile work experience to add to her resume. Ann’s team delivered solutions to their client in collaboration with experts from the FDA and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
College students can practice the basics of effective communication in school, but there’s nothing like writing emails and preparing reports for actual clients to drive home the fundamentals of communication.
Ann says that oral and written communication skills were her top takeaway from the Bessel Origin experience. She says she learned to communicate with empathy, focused on what the other person knows and needs. “I learned how to explain ideas to people who might not be familiar with my project. I learned the language they use and finally understood what words like ‘stakeholder’ really mean in a practical setting.”
Most new grads learn those real-world communication skills and etiquette in their first few months on the job, but Ann and her Bessel Origin colleagues are entering the workforce with that advanced understanding of how to use email, project abstracts, and presentations to effectively get their message across and move a project forward.
Ann was especially interested in one focus area of the program: human-centered design. “It’s about changing your mindset,” she says. “I learned to be open-minded and think about the humans I’m designing for, not just the requirements on the page.”
And, she says she learned to be more flexible. “We worked based on a vision, not a fixed end goal. Having a clear vision of success means you can reevaluate and readjust your goals along the way based on what you learn. I learned that vision is all about the ‘why’ — the core reason behind the work, not just the deliverable.”
The program’s focus on empathy and flexibility helped Ann pivot and adjust when the pandemic hit in the spring. She and her colleagues quickly moved to remote project work, and were able to rethink how they would effectively deliver their final device prototype through virtual teamwork and presentations.
New Career Paths
Finally, participating in the Bessel Origin program gave Ann a new perspective on how her college studies could align with her future career. “Originally, I was only thinking about traditional mechanical engineering fields like aerospace and energy,” she says. “But through this program, I was exposed to other industries. I realized I’m interested in applying my technical degree to business. The program opened new doors and helped me expand my definition of what my career might look like.”
Her classmates had similar a-ha moments during the program. Ann saw electrical engineers developing a smart cane; computer science majors worked with EMTs and doctors on a concussion detection project. These real-world applications of technical engineering skills showed all of the course participants new paths and possibilities.
I asked Ann why she recommends the Bessel Origin program to other college students and new grads. “I’d say it’s all about high reward in a short period of time,” she says. “I learned all of this in weeks. And I didn’t just gain experience, I gained a new passion for human-centered design. The Bessel Origin culture of caring and respect, and the energy for learning new things, was contagious.”
Learn more and apply to the next Bessel Origin cohort: https://www.besselorigin.com/