female student smiling

How much weight can you put on a shoulder that's been surgically repaired four times? The answer may be two-fold: one clinical and another spelled out in perseverance.

Before she was awarded an academic scholarship to attend Temple, Morgan Rollins was a standout soccer goalie for Tower Hill High School in Delaware. A game during her freshman year is when the bad breaks started, first with a tear to her labrum and biceps tendon. After six months of rehab, she injured the same shoulder sophomore year, and again at the start of her senior year.

Even with injuries, it was still enough for the Temple Owls soccer team to sign Morgan. However, the possibility of yet another surgery loomed heavy on her mind. Morgan hung up her cleats, trading them her inspiration and a blossoming bioengineering career.

"The coach (Seamus O'Connor) said, in so many words, if I ever wanted to be able to lift my kids up in the future, I should consider not playing anymore," she said.

Now, she's still helping to lead a team, just a new kind.

Morgan secured a $4,000 Creative Arts, Research and Scholarship (CARAS) Program grant aimed at scholarly, research or creative arts projects under the supervision of a Temple faculty member. For Rollins, that meant starting a new multidisciplinary student organization, Temple Prosthetics and Orthotics. TemPO is currently working to update a prosthetic arm with an eye on developing functional prototypes for clinical use with a partner group, Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). 

Her interest in prosthetics was piqued by not just her own multiple injuries, but also her own high school independent study. First, Morgan collaborated with a fellow student on a thought-controlled 3-D printed prosthetic - a project that ended up a little too ambitious.

"It turns out we weren't fifth year PhD students, but we learned quite a bit" she laughed.

Still in high school, Morgan then turned to a new project: developing a prosthetic for a teacher who lost part of their leg above the knee. Again, she made significant progress even though the end-product wasn't completed. In particular, Morgan learned more about the psychology of how to frame the need for replacement limbs.

"I became really interested in the positive psychology aspect of prosthetics," Rollins said. "In other words, helping people who need a prosthetic of some kind feel like they are actually gaining something rather than just replacing something they lost."

Part of her work has been collaborating with BMES on upgrading that group's current robotic arm: updating to more linear servos, EMG pads, and delegating sub-projects like capping the device so it looks more like a natural arm. So far, the sophomore has built an impressive group of nearly 40 students interested in prosthetics and is already planning for the future, including potentially finding clinical applications for the group's updated prosthetic.

It's a lot of work for any one student to shoulder, but Morgan Rollins has proven she can overcome challenges this far. Why stop now? Dr. Andrew Spence, Associate Professor of Bioengineering, added that Rollins is well on her way.

"Morgan is fearless and people naturally gravitate towards working with her, Dr. Spence said. "I think it's especially impressive that her team is so broad - her plans to interact with clinicians and patients will ensure she finds new avenues to help people, and not just imitate what others have tried. It's exciting to just see what she, and TemPO, will do."

Morgan and TemPO recently presented at the Southeast Psychological Annual Meeting in Jacksonville, Florida and will join other Temple Engineers at the Philadelphia Science Festival in April.