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Napa County students mix with robots at Career Day
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Napa County students mix with robots at Career Day

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She’s not a robotic engineer yet, but on Wednesday, Napa High student Olivia Egan got some hands-on experience using robots she may one day design.

Wielding the handle of the Queen of the Valley Medical Center’s new Mako robot, Egan guided the machine in a simulation of knee surgery.

“That was really cool,” said Egan, after taking the machine for “test drive.”

Egan and more than 70 other local high school students were at the hospital for a Robotics Career Day.

Hosted by the Queen, its foundation and nonprofit NapaLearns, the idea was to provide an opportunity to learn from and meet members of the Queen of the Valley surgical team who are using the latest robotics technology to perform less invasive surgeries.

Care providers also shared their educational paths and the discovery processes that led them to pursue their specialties.

Students enrolled in robotics, medical science and computer science classes from area high schools including American Canyon; Calistoga Junior-Senior; Justin-Siena; Napa; New Technology; St. Helena; Valley Oak and Vintage attended the event.

Egan, who is captain of the Napa High robotics team, said she came to the career day “because I wanted to see ways robots can be applied practically.” This senior said she plans to study robotic engineering and entrepreneurship in college.

Vishnu Vijayakumar, an 11th grader at Justin-Siena high school, is also a member of his school’s robotics team. He came to the career day “to see what we do on a bigger scale, in person.”

Another Vintage High School robotics team member, Ava Rubin, said she has been “fascinated” by robotics. She came to the career day because “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see and get to use these robots,” in person. “Robots – they’re the future,” said Rubin.

Zymher Vecina, a ninth grader at American Canyon High School, attended the career fair. Vecina said he’s also interested in robotics. “I like being able to code stuff… and see how my coding can make a result.”

Edelaine Dumaguin, another ninth grader at American Canyon High School, said she joined the group “to see if I’d be interested in going into medicine” in the future. She said might consider therapy or nursing.

Kenya De Haro, a senior at Valley Oak High School, said “I thought it’d be cool,” to come to the event “and have an open mind about a career in the medical field.”

“The coding and robotics part is really most interesting to me,” De Haro said.

Harrison Barrett, a senior at Vintage High School, will likely study computer science or engineering in college.

“It’s pretty amazing seeing how technology is involved with modern-day procedures and how it’s helping doctors in today’s world,” said Barrett.

Besides that, “I like helping others and this is definitely catching my interest,” said Barrett.

Vintage High School science teacher Paul Brochard accompanied 14 students — seven male, seven female — to the event.

“Nothing beats hands-on experience,” said Brochard. “It’s exciting to see doctors in person,” and motivational for the students, he said. And for some students, “Seeing the robots and engineers is an even bigger value.”

He hopes the visit will help encourage “and empower” those who might be interested in medical or engineering fields.

One of the medical providers who spoke at the showcase, Dr. Susana Gonzalez, said she hopes students walk away “understanding the opportunities available here and in their own community.”

For those who are inspired, “reach out and find the right mentors,” she recommended. “There is no end to the possibilities.”

In addition to Gonzalez speaking to students, Robert Dunham, M.D., general surgery, and Daniel Gilbert, D.O. urologist, discussed how the hospital’s da Vinci XI Surgical System is reducing recovery time and scarring for a variety of urology, gynecology and general procedures.

Michael Shifflett, M.D. orthopedic surgery, talked to students about how the hospital’s new Mako robot is providing better outcomes and reducing hospital stays for patients in need of knee replacement.

In addition, students had the opportunity to learn about the mechanics behind this medical technology from Intuitive and Stryker representatives.

“We are thrilled to invite local students to meet the providers who have been pioneers in advancing this technology. And to help the next generation reach their own career aspirations,” said Elaine John, chief executive officer of Queen of the Valley Foundation.

“Events like this help bridge the gap between classroom instruction and hands-on experience,” said Peg Maddocks, executive director of NapaLearns. “They open students’ eyes and expose them to worlds outside their own, inspiring them to think about their future careers.”

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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