Your Dream Career: How to Make It a Reality After College
Before graduation, Ryan Alcantara landed his dream internship. He's paid to test running shoes in Brooks' Biomechanics lab.
Ready ... set ... RUN!
Ryan Alcantara '15 is in the biomechanics lab at Brooks Running. In front of him jobs a runner who is covered in silver dots. These dots, called retro-reflective markers, are being tracked by eight infrared camera, transmitting data for a 3-D analysis. Alcantara's goal? Use those dots to collect and analyze data on a new pair of Brooks shoes.
“In the biomechanics lab, we test shoes,” he says. “We'll calculate different forces and angles, at the ankle and knee, to look at how the shoes might be affecting them," he says. Questions focus on factors like comfort, support and durability. Using the dots and computer technology, Alcantara collects a 3-D biomechanical analysis, part of the extensive testing that makes sure each new shoe is the best it can be.
Alcantara loves running, and Brooks is one of the biggest names in running shoes. With the help of SPU’s Mentor Program, and personalized guidance from professors, the applied human biology major landed a full-time, paid internship in their biomechanics lab starting right after his graduation last spring.
He discovered a passion for scientific research in one of his first SPU classes. “We had to design our own research project, conduct data collection — something with the human body — and then present on it,” Alcantara says, "It was very difficult, but I loved it.”
Taught by Associate Professor of Biology Cara Wall-Scheffler, that class sparked Alcantara’s interest in research. He just didn’t know what sort of research job to pursue.
Associate Professor of Biology Cara Wall-Scheffler
One-to-one professor support
Because of SPU’s small class sizes, professors like Wall-Scheffler can invest personally in their students’ growth. The two also worked together on an independent academic research project, and Alcantara is preparing a scientific paper and presenting their results at conferences.
“SPU is a place where people know you,” Wall-Scheffler says. “People invest in you. We notice our students. We help them find outside learning opportunities. We help them develop into a full, well-rounded person.”
As Alcantara explored career options, she offered support and guidance. “I remember sitting down with Dr. Wall- Scheffler my freshman year and saying, ‘I want to do both of these things: running and science. How do I do it?’ She said, ‘Well, work in a biomechanics lab.’”
Local professionals as mentors
Not only does Brooks have a biomechanics lab, but they’re also headquartered in the Fremont neighborhood, just minutes from campus. Through SPU’s Mentor Program, Alcantara got connected to a Brooks engineer.
“During my senior year, I was periodically visiting Brooks,” he said. The mentoring engineer connected him with a designer, a developer, and biomechanist who worked in the lab. Seeing it all firsthand confirmed: This was where Alcantara wanted to be.
“In January, a position opened up as an intern in their biomechanics lab,” he remembers. Alcantara applied, was hired, and began working full-time right after graduation.
Living the dream
“I couldn’t believe it,” Alcantara says, thinking back to his first day. “I remember sitting down at my desk and being like, ‘I’ve got my card. I have my own desk. I have my laptop. This is real. I am a part of this.’”
Alcantara loves getting to see firsthand how much runners love their shoes. “I was in the Queen Anne neighborhood, at Cupcake Royale, meeting with Dr. Wall-Scheffler, and the woman sitting next to me had Cascadias — they’re one of our trail shoes. She said, ‘I love these. They’re wonderful. I’ve had them for years.’”
Wall-Scheffler had played a big role in his journey to Brooks, so sharing that moment with her felt special. When this internship ends, Alcantara is preparing to go to graduate school for a master’s degree in biomechanics. After, he hopes to return to industry research, hopefully at a place like Brooks.
For Alcantara, success isn’t just about getting paid to work in his dream industry right after graduation. The runner loves contributing to something he cares about. “I might be doing research in a lab all day, but I can go outside, look at the Burke-Gilman trail and see people running,” he says. A lot of them wear Brooks shoes. Alcantara smiles. “I know I had a piece in that.”