Not Your Ordinary Mechanic

Not Your Ordinary Mechanic

Meet Travis Ahlquist: DCTC’s new BMET Instructor

Dakota County Technical College’s new Biomedical Equipment Technology instructor might be from South Dakota and understand every innuendo on Big Bang Theory, but Travis Ahlquist is far from ordinary. He grew up in a house of auto mechanics and always enjoyed working with his hands. That simple interest has led him down a windy path to DCTC.

In high school, he was the kind of guy who would finish with football practice and walk right over to the chess club for a quick game of wits. “I was one of those students who could move between groups in the school and fit right in,” he explained.

Work station in DCTC’s Biomedical Equipment Technology lab.After high school, Travis followed his father’s, grandfather’s, and great-grandfather’s footsteps and joined the military. He knew he wanted to work on fighter jets in the Air Force, which introduced him to a new level of mechanics. He graduated from Southeast Technical College with A.A.S. degrees in Electronics Technology and Biomedical Equipment Technology. “I liked electronics because it is one of those fields that opens a lot of doors, with a lot of choices for flexibility.”

His decision to specialize in the medical field led him to Biomedical Equipment Technology. “Working in a hospital attracted me,” he explained. “The medical equipment is used to keep people alive, treat conditions, and is always high-tech.”

Fairview University Hospital hired Travis as a Biomedical Equipment Technician before he was even out of college, where he stayed for a year and a half. “That was my first job right out of school, still a newbie graduate.”

He moved onto work for Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, but before long he decided to throw caution to the wind. Travis sold everything, packed up in a U-Haul, and drove to Daytona Beach, Fla. “I didn’t have a job, a place to live, nothing, but within a couple days, I had a place to live, a job, and was enrolled in flight training school.” With the skills he learned through the Air Force, he gained an FAA Airframe and Powerplant license. He traded his mechanics abilities for flight time and eventually earned his Private Pilot’s License with Instrument Ratings.

A Pulse Oximeter, one of the many machines Travis introduces to his students.Travis was offered a job back in South Dakota and wanted to move back to family. But when our country faced the 9/11 disaster, the avionics industry fell apart. “I thought it was time to get into a more stable position.” That’s when he found his way back to the biomedical field at Park Nicollet.

He worked three or four years as a biomedical equipment technician again, enrolled in Bethel University, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He moved into a managerial position and stayed with Park Nicollet more than nine years before taking a regional site manager position with Allina Health.

It was then that he saw the biomedical equipment technology instructor position open up at DCTC. “It was the ideal position and I realized it was time to make a change,” Travis explained. “I didn’t know when the next opportunity would come along, since there are only a few biomed programs around.”

So far, Travis has been busy working with the advisory committee to restructure the curriculum, adjust a few courses, and the order of some other courses that will take effect next school year. Also new will be a biomed field experience, which will be a 40-hour exploratory visit to a hospital. “Students will be able to see what’s going on, what’s happening, what’s it like in their career field,” he said. “So when they start the second year, they will have a good understanding of the opportunities and the kinds of positions they will be going into when they graduate.”

For those of you who don’t know much about the biomedical equipment field, it is maintaining equipment that is used to treat, diagnose, or monitor a patient’s condition. Travis explains that it could include a vacuum pump, or the most complicated of machineries like an MRI or anesthesia machine, or da Vinci robots that do surgeries. They need to have preventative maintenance done and needs to be repaired when they break. That task falls on a biomedical technician’s shoulders.

Doctors, nurses, clinicians and especially patients, must have confidence that the equipment works right, every, single time. “There should be no thoughts about it reading the patient wrong, giving the wrong blood pressure, or misdiagnosing a patient because technicians have maintained the equipment at a high level of functionality,” he said.

You’ll see Thin Man in Travis’ BMET classroom.To impress on his students the importance of their field, he gives them some advice. First, Travis explains to them that doctors and nurses are under a lot of stress because they are dealing with people who are usually seriously ill. They want to grab that equipment and know without a doubt in their mind that it’s going to function exactly the way it’s supposed to. He also tells them “What if that equipment is used on your family member, your son, your daughter, or even yourself,” he said. “Treat every piece of equipment as though it’s used on someone you love because it’s going to be used on somebody who’s loved by someone else.”

Travis has been looking into DCTC’s SimLab to set up simulations for his students. “With the simulation software, we can simulate pretty much any kind of situation that may arise in a patient’s room,” he said. “If a ventilator isn’t working properly, you can’t just go in there and unplug it. It might be operator error, so you have to properly diagnose it.”

The SimLab can simulate a true equipment problem or setting problem. It will teach the students to ask questions, prompt an interaction with nurses, how to work through the problem, and choose the next step. “It provides learning opportunities for the students so that when they get into the profession, they have that understanding when they go into a patient’s room,” Travis said.

Travis’ favorite part of teaching has been seeing that his students understand the concepts, when it clicks with them. “That’s always a great satisfaction to know that the students really appreciate that you have a vested interest in their learning,” he said. “I want to make sure that when they walk out of the classroom, they feel that it’s worth every penny they spent, they know the material, and can go from there.”

Not only does Travis lead the Biomedical Equipment Technology program, he is also a leader in the United States Junior Chamber, or Jaycees. In fact, he is the current president. Thousands of people between the ages of 18 and 40 represent 117 countries. “Our primary mission is to provide development opportunities, to empower young people to create positive change,” he said. He will be travelling to Taipei, Taiwan for a world conference, where 8,000 members out of about 100 countries will be in attendance.

Taiwan can tally one more country on his long list of places he’s visited. Travis is a world traveler, having been to almost 50 countries and 47 states. Around home, he also loves to go camping with his wife and two daughters.

A few more interesting facts? “I was a Boy Scout growing up, I made it to Life Scout,” he said. That’s the second highest attainable rank, next to Eagle Scout.

In addition to working on F-16s, Travis has also flown in one for a few hours. He describes it as a very bumpy ride, at least until he blacked out. “I was able to pull nine G’s and I got my nine G pin to prove it,” he said.

Oh, and his wife has described him as a mixture between Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and Chandler from Friends. Travis explains, “I’m a little bit of a jokester, but deep down I’m an über nerd.”

Once he is settled in his new position, he plans to pursue a master’s degree. “Not only do I enjoy teaching in higher education, I also enjoy continuing to learn,” he said.

With his wealth of experience and time in the biomedical field, Travis is a great asset to have at Dakota County Technical College. We welcome him, nerd tendencies and all.

For more information about the DCTC Biomedical Equipment Technology program, contact: