For nearly 25 years, PLTW has offered transformative classroom and learning experiences for PreK-12 students. Now, many of those students are professionals in STEM fields. We recently reached out to several PLTW alumni to learn more about their educational and career journeys and find out what advice they have for current PLTW students. If you are a PLTW alumnus interested in sharing your story, we’d love to hear from you here.
Leanna Chan lives in Carmel, Indiana, and works as a product designer for Zotec Partners. In high school, she completed PLTW Biomedical Science’s Principles of Biomedical Science, Human Body Systems, and Biomedical Innovation courses.
In what grades did you participate in PLTW? What were some of your most memorable experiences from PLTW?
I participated in PLTW from sophomore year to senior year of high school. I have so many great memories from PLTW classes but here are two of my favorites:
- In Human Body Systems, I remember dissecting a cow’s eye, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever because apart from reading about things in a textbook, we were able to see it for ourselves. And later, in Biomedical Innovation, we got to dissect a whole fetal pig, which was also a highlight of my high school career.
- For Biomedical Innovation, one of our projects was designing the layout of a hospital. We took a field trip to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, (I went to high school in Warsaw, Indiana) where we got to take a tour of their ER floor. It was one of the most memorable experiences because we got to see what goes on behind the scenes and learned how cases were triaged. After the trip, I remember getting lunch with all my classmates. Looking back, it was definitely an event that kept us close even as we were about to leave for college.
I actually met my best friend in Principles of Biomedical Sciences. We were lab partners and also ended up being lab partners in Human Body Systems. She’s one of my favorite people in the world and will be my maid of honor when I get married next spring.
What did your journey look like to get to where you are today?
After high school, I went to Purdue University to study engineering. I had plans to major in Biomedical Engineering and to go to PA (physicians assistant) school afterwards, but, like everything in life, that plan did not last long. While I stayed in engineering, I ended up in a Purdue-specific program called Multidisciplinary Engineering.
Multidisciplinary Engineering (MDE) is a Purdue program designed for students whose interests lie at the intersection of two engineering disciplines. The academic advisors help you design a plan of study (coursework plan) specific to your interests. The track I designed was titled “Medical Systems Engineering” and was at the intersection of biomedical engineering and industrial engineering. While I no longer wanted to be a PA, I still wanted to work in healthcare. I wanted to learn about healthcare and biomedical innovation (the biomed engineering side of things), as well as understanding systems around ergonomics and human factor design (the industrial engineering side of things). Overall, I wanted to understand how the U.S. healthcare system worked and how we can make it a better experience for patients.
The last summer of my college career, I got a product management internship with Milliman MedInsight in Seattle, Washington. MedInsight is a team within Milliman, an actuarial consulting firm. MedInsight, specifically, is a healthcare analytics platform. Since my internship was in product management, that meant I got to learn about how the platform is built, the data behind it, and the design behind it. I mostly worked with product managers and product designers and learned about User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) design.
UI/UX design is an important aspect of any software platform because it’s how the users will interact with the software. To me, product management and UI/UX design were the answer to what I wanted to do in my career. It incorporated the design aspect of engineering that I loved. As long as I stayed in the healthcare industry, I would be working within the confines of an industry that intrigued me. One of the things I love about UI/UX design in healthcare is being able to simplify and visualize complex problems/solutions to the general population. This is even more relevant than ever before because of what we are facing with public health in COVID.
Based on the needs of several teams within Milliman, I got a position as a Healthcare Data Analyst for the Pharmaceutical Team in the Milliman Indianapolis office. The work I was doing for the Indy office was very different from what I experienced in Seattle as it was pure consulting work vs. product management work.
Consulting in healthcare was a very interesting experience, particularly within the pharmaceutical industry. I learned a lot about the types of tactics that pharmaceutical manufacturers use to promote their pharmaceutical treatments/drugs and the types of messages they create for healthcare providers and insurance companies to get their drugs covered on formulary. It was like a mix of data science, marketing, and pharmacology.
After a year and a half at Milliman, I knew I wanted to go back to product management and UI/UX design. I missed the creativity needed for a job like this and how impactful the work could be. I was ready to start making the switch to product, but of course, COVID had to put a halt to everything. I ended up staying at Milliman for a few more months to try and wait COVID out but had no idea when things would go back to “normal.” During lockdown, I took a Udemy course to re-acquaint myself with product management and started doing side projects to build up a portfolio of UI/UX design work. When companies started to hire again, I put my focus on healthcare and tech companies because that’s the space I wanted to be in. I ended up receiving three job offers at the beginning of June 2021 and ultimately chose to accept the position at Zotec.
What is your current role within your company? What are your responsibilities in this position?
I’m currently a product designer at Zotec Partners. I’m still getting acquainted with the business but already feel right at home with the people here and the work that I’m getting. I’m so excited to be doing something creative within the healthcare field!
Zotec Partners is a company that specializes in Healthcare Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) Solutions. Specifically, my team works on the patient billing software that Zotec has created. That means we get to work on patient solutions where patients and guarantors can hop online and pay their medical bills.
My responsibilities include attending daily meetings with our software engineers, designing wireframes and mockups for new features in our patient portal and collaborating with other fellow designers on ways we can improve our work.
One of the projects Zotec is working on is with the Indiana Department of Health to create the Indiana COVID Vaccine appointment website. Since joining Zotec, we have been proactively designing and preparing the website for the release of COVID booster shots (when they are available). As the designer on this project, it is one of the most impactful projects I’ve ever worked on, and I’m so proud of Zotec for being able to develop the technology to do this!
What did you learn in PLTW that still helps you today?
I think PLTW really helped make my transition to college much smoother compared to my classmates. I loved how our PLTW teachers didn’t tell us exactly what to do but took the role of a guide/resource that we could go to when we needed help. This helped me figure out how to articulate the right questions to ask in class at college and even how to talk to professors.
While most of my work is not within the biomedical industry but rather the general healthcare umbrella, I was surprised to find that learning about anatomy in Human Body Systems really helped me understand the mechanism of action of new pharmaceutical drugs. This was a huge benefit in my previous position because it allowed me to understand the benefits of the drug and write better copy/language for our marketing material.
My PLTW knowledge is also great for understanding what my best friend is talking about on FaceTime since we took the class together in high school, and she’s in medical school.
Do you have any advice for current PLTW students?
If you persevere and work hard, you can do anything - While I was job searching for my newest position, I felt discouraged when all the rejection rolled in. Half of the fight is being able to persevere through, and if you work hard, the right people will notice you and you will be able to accomplish anything.
Connect with your classmates - you never know when your lab partner will become your best friend! But also, it never hurts to have more friends and to expand your network for after you leave high school.
Keep your PLTW notes - I’ve gotten this from several former classmates who are pursuing a career in medicine/biology. They said that the notes they took from PLTW classes helped them in their college courses.