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Med school beginnings lead to engineer’s career in medical devices

A man and his son.

Jeremey Pionke started his undergraduate career intending to go to medical school. He left medicine for engineering and ironically ended up working the engineering applications to medical devices. Here he is pictured with his son, Max. Photo provided

A foray into the medical field was forestalled when one MU Engineering alumnus’ interests lured him into electrical and computer engineering. But a twist of fate took his career back into the medical field — with engineering applications.

Jeremey Pionke’s employer, bioMérieux Inc. aims to develop solutions to global public health needs. As a global hardware director, Pionke is responsible for overseeing a group that designs hardware for in vitro diagnostic instruments.

“Our instruments test different samples for the presence of bacteria,” he said. A blood culture instrument, for example, could detect sepsis, while another instrument could analyze the type of bacteria in a sample and recommend a treatment.

His current company wasn’t his first foray into the medical field. Pionke’s father Larry is an engineer with the Boeing Co. When the junior Pionke came to Mizzou, he was accepted into the Conley Scholars Program, which gives qualifying participants pre-admittance into MU’s School of Medicine, and that is what he planned for his future.

“One of the requirements was to get an undergraduate degree,” Pionke said, adding that several of his classmates opted to study biology or chemistry. “I liked science and math, and I wanted to do something different.”

Something different and a curiosity for how electrical components work led him to the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. As he continued in ECE, he got involved with the SAE Formula car team. And he remained a Conley Scholar.

Pionke said that he continued to research case studies from in the medical field with others in the Conley program and added, “but as I got further into electrical engineering, I realized that’s what I liked more. I liked understanding how things worked.”

He left the MU Med School program and concentrated on engineering, graduating in 1999 with dual degrees in electrical engineering and computer engineering. The following year, he completed a master’s degree in ECE from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Soon after, he married his college sweetheart Angela — a fellow MU electrical engineering alum whom he met in his Freshman Interest Group — and was working as a development engineer for Dell Inc. in Texas. Since Angela’s job, then in Detroit, required her to relocate every few years, Pionke made the decision to follow his wife’s career wherever it led them.

When they relocated to the St. Louis area, where Pionke grew up, he began his career with bioMérieux. He also completed a master’s certificate program in system design and management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. He said the ease in transition from consumer electronics to industrial instruments lies in the jobs’ roots.

“Electronics are just electronics,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it goes into a cell phone or a medical device. The regulations differ by industry, but the fundamentals are the same.”

Now that they are closer to their alma mater, the Pionkes are able to return the favor to the department that introduced them to engineering and each other. Both are members of the ECE Department’s Industry Advisory Board.

If he could offer advice to current undergraduate students, Pionke said he would encourage them to join an engineering student organization.

“You need something that sets you apart,” he said. “The SAE Formula car team exposed me to other disciplines — not just engineering. That broadened my mind and has helped me more than anything in my career.”