While many students on the Mississippi State campus wear a smart watch such as a FitBit or an Apple Watch to track health data, Erin Parker has spent a significant amount of her time at the university developing the next generation of wearable technologies.
The industrial and systems engineering graduate student from metro Atlanta initially came to MSU as an undergraduate because the university was one of only a few to offer programs in computer engineering as well as fashion design and merchandising. She combined her knowledge as a double major to help MSU’s Athlete Engineering research team develop a prototype sock outfitted with sensors to capture advanced data on how people move and where they put pressure on their feet and ankles. The sock has the potential to improve performance and prevent injury in sports, military, industrial and rehabilitation settings by helping users identify patterns that can lead to injury over time.
Parker got involved with MSU’s Athlete Engineering research group after hearing about the sock prototype development project from a friend. In addition to supporting prototype development in the lab during her undergraduate years, she now is helping the team refine potential manufacturing processes for the end product and learning about the process of commercializing it through technology transfer and a startup company. Parker was part of an MSU team recognized with a TechConnect Innovation Award earlier this year at the global technology conference.
“Being able to work with not only the people in Athlete Engineering, but also with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach to start up these efforts and raise money to actually make this a product that everyday people can use is really, really cool,” Parker said.
Parker said she has appreciated the opportunity to take on a large role in a research project and have her unique perspective recognized, both as an undergraduate student and while she completes her master’s degree.
“I’m lucky to be working with people who know when they don’t know something,” Parker said. “My industrial engineering professors did not take fashion design classes, so they don’t know as much as me or my professors in that area about textiles or how fabrics are made. When we run into a problem in that area, I’m able to explain what I think we need to do and they tell me to go do it. I also have been able to experience working on journal publications and grant proposals.”
Parker plans to finish her master’s degree in 2023, but her career path is still undecided. She likes the idea of pursuing a doctorate and getting more involved in teaching and research. There also could be options to expand the start-up endeavors related to the technology she has helped develop.
After several years on campus, Parker said one of her favorite parts about being at MSU is the wide range of people she has been able to meet and work with, whether through student organizations, her classes or her research.
“It's good to have different perspectives and be able to interact with different people,” Parker said. “There's been so many opportunities through Athlete Engineering and my professors, and everyone on that team works so well together. It really has shown what a good working environment can look like.”