During his undergraduate studies, Conrad Grebel University College alum Connor Huxman (BASc 2020) developed a significant interest in incorporating engineering design to address health care problems, a field of work that he finds to be both “challenging and rewarding.” Connor explained how being around those who have been affected by musculoskeletal conditions, and observing their improvements following surgery, has allowed him to “really appreciate the impact that advancements in orthopedic technologies can have.” This spurred his rapidly-emerging career, already marked by significant entrepreneurial accomplishments in the biomedical field.

Connor Huxman in a forest

Born into "a family of communicators," Connor was drawn more to math, science, and visual art than English and literature. When faced with the task of deciding between engineering and pre-med, he opted to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, “trying to keep both doors open.” There, Connor explored design, problem-solving, and innovation, and how they intersect with the clinical delivery of medical care. His final co-op position sparked a strong interest in orthopedics, where Connor found that “designing mechanical devices that solve health problems while integrating safely with the human body is both challenging and rewarding.” Connor continues to find joy in the artistic side of engineering design, explaining that “integrating creativity and aesthetics in the design process and being able to communicate ideas through sketching is something that my fine art background has really fueled.” 

Graduating amidst the pandemic with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Fine Art, Connor finished his degree virtually. He felt fortunate to find a job right out of school despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, helping to design spinal fusion devices for his last co-op employer, an orthopedic implant company. Connor worked with them full-time until he began graduate school at Penn State University, during which he continued to work part-time. In 2022, he attained a Master of Science in Engineering Design.  

Now, Connor is pursuing his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, which he is excited to complete this fall. His PhD dissertation is centered around a new orthopedic implant he has designed for improving long bone fracture healing. The research involves mathematical modeling, computer simulations, and mechanical testing to predict, understand, and iterate upon the behavior of the novel technology and its interaction with bone. By working directly alongside orthopedic surgeons, Connor and his team are addressing the problem of inconsistent healing with current rigid bone plates, leading to the design of a flexible bone plate to promote healing. The results of his research are promising, as he added that “we are currently wrapping up biomechanical testing and beginning to plan out pre-clinical studies.” 

Connor has initiated several entrepreneurial endeavors alongside his research for his PhD. He took part in a National Science Foundation program as the entrepreneurial lead, while also competing and winning prizes in international pitch competitions, including the first-place prize at the Emerging Medical Innovation competition in Minneapolis, MN in 2023. Alongside his many achievements, Connor did not hesitate to add, “I’m excited about the potential opportunity to form a startup after my graduation this fall to further pursue the work.” 

Connor credits his time at Conrad Grebel as a period of personal growth. “Living at Grebel is in some ways the ultimate – and necessary – antithesis to the rigour of Waterloo engineering,” he explained, adding that “while many nights at Grebel were spent studying until 4 am for anatomical systems modeling exams, just as many nights were spent having ‘hot topics’ in the quad, a name we gave to late night philosophical debates on topics like minimum wage and the ethics around human cloning.” Connor noted how the unique make-up for the Grebel community, with students from all faculties and years of study, launched these many conversations. 

With fond memories, Connor reminisced about living in both the residence and apartments at Grebel, where he joined in on a vast assortment of both planned and spontaneous adventures. He recalled intramural beginner hockey where he “started off as a clumsy American who fell a record 21 times in my first game - my friends counting in the stands did not let me forget.” He eventually found his “true Canadian identity” and finished his final beginner hockey game scoring a hattrick – “a testament to all the friends who taught me how to skate over the years.” 

The community at Grebel has had a lasting impact on both his personal and academic life. Serving as Connor’s iron ring presenter in 2020, Centre for Peace Advancement Director Paul Heidebrecht, who teaches Peace and Conflict Studies at Grebel, was also Connor's mentor. “I connected with Paul in the last half of my undergraduate degree when I was interested in doing something focused on high impact as opposed to high tech for my Fourth Year Design Project,” recalled Connor. "Paul had a wealth of experience applying engineering for peace and global humanitarian applications.” When later working on a non-profit project in Uganda developing an electricity-free surgical instrument cleaning device for maternity health clinics, “Paul was able to offer not just guidance in how to approach some project challenges," Connor added, "but also career advice for me – and not the kind you get in E5.” Paul showed Connor how “you can combine engineering with social justice in unique ways, and make a compelling project, or even career out of it.” 

Connor Huxman and Amanda Enns with their camping truck

Connor is a frequent traveler. “I love exploring the natural world and have had the fortune to travel quite a bit during my time as a graduate student the last four years,” he said. “When you’re doing graduate research, you have lots of flexibility to advance your work during the semesters and work remotely over the summer.” On many adventures, he has been joined by his fiancée and fellow Grebel alum, Amanda Enns (BASc 2020). In summer 2022, they converted Connor's pickup truck into a camper and embarked on a 7-week, 16,000km road trip, camping in U.S. national parks, noting that it was “a truly incredible experience.” 

For Connor, Grebel not only fostered a sense of purpose and commitment to helping others, but it also initiated life-long relationships. In addition to meeting his fiancée at Grebel, he also found lasting friendships, including with his first-year roommate Nico Werschler, who will be a groomsman at his wedding this summer. Connor credits his time at both the University of Waterloo and Grebel for preparing him for his current field of work. “Again, it comes back to balance," he said. "Through connecting with many innovators and entrepreneurs in the medical device space, it’s clear that they have both technical acumen and the soft skills to communicate effectively and tell compelling stories. And I think Grebel helps produce these kinds of people, especially when paired with the engineering excellence of Waterloo.” 

By Natasha Forth

Connor Huxman (BASc 2020) is a PhD candidate at Penn State University, conducting research and innovating new designs for orthopedic implants. His time studying biomedical engineering and visual art at the University of Waterloo, together with his medical device industry co-op placements, has helped launch a career in orthopedics engineering. He has since participated in, and won, international pitch competitions, and is leading the entrepreneurial efforts of his research. In his free time, Connor enjoys traveling with his fiancée, both internationally and through road trips in their converted camper truck across North America. 

Connor's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.