ISE graduate student credits MEM program for product invention

Published: Dec 1, 2023 11:25 AM

By Carla Nelson

Holli Michaels, an online graduate student studying industrial and systems engineering, is part of a team that recently won first place in Auburn University’s fifth-annual Halloween Pitch Competition.

The competition provides a platform for Auburn students to pitch business ideas, and Michaels, along with computer science and software engineering graduate student Courtney Montague, won for their fitness/rehab device, AbGlo.

AbGlo originated inside a health club in Santa Barbara, California. 

“When I went to my gym one day, Mad-Fitness Santa Barbara, I saw owner and operator Marianne Madsen trying to communicate with a back rehabilitation client how to push their lumbar region down correctly, and they were both getting frustrated,” Michaels said. “Marianne remarked, ‘If only there were a tool that I could see visually when people are pressing their lumbar down correctly.’”

She said that’s when a lightbulb came on.

“I said I could help her with that, whipped up a pressure sensor and LED light box, and returned the next day,” Michaels said. “We tried it out, and it wasn’t perfect, but it worked. From there, everyone in the gym got excited and asked when they could buy one.”

AbGlo utilizes a flexible sensor that triggers lights, vibration and optional audio feedback when pressed flat by the lumbar area through the engagement of core muscles. Bluetooth connectivity facilitates real-time communication of the user’s postural position. The team zeroed in on strengthening the transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles to alleviate low back pain and improve fitness outcomes. Individuals or physicians can use the device.

The team also won the Thomas Walter Center “Special Category” Award in the 2022 Halloween Pitch Competition and earned a spot in the 2023 Tiger Cage Student Business Idea Pitch Competition semifinals. The targeted timeframe for commercial sale of AbGlo is summer 2024.

Michaels has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Gannon University and is currently enrolled in the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. She is also a senior design transfer engineer at Arthrex, a medical device company in Santa Barbara. Montague, an engineering online student and Michaels' fiancé, turned her on to the MEM program.

“I was searching for this degree due to increasing opportunities to supervise at my job, and with the onset of Covid, I wanted to update my skills to be the best manager I could be,” she said. “I am super technical, so the MEM program was the perfect fit to help me round out my business side skillsets.”

Michaels is enrolled in the product innovation option in the MEM program and is also working towards the Occupational Safety and Ergonomics Graduate Certificate.

“I love how engaging the teachers are, especially for online students,” she said. “It really does matter that they acknowledge us and have empathy that most of us are working full-time or raising families while enrolled.”

Michaels added that the professors in ISE have contributed to the success of AbGlo.

“Dr. LuAnn Carpenter was so kind to meet with me over Zoom before I signed up for my first classes to get to know me a bit. I attribute her recommendation to taking the Product Innovation courses first as the wind beneath my entrepreneurial sails,” she said. “Dr. Richard Sesek’s energy in the Product Innovation courses was so electric that after our first few assignments, I set up a little workshop and started making things again. I am so thankful for the care and dedication that each of the Auburn professors put into these MEM classes. I am very grateful to everyone at Auburn who has made my experience fantastic.”

Media Contact: Carla Nelson,, 3347400221
The idea for AbGlo originated inside a health club in Santa Barbara, California, between gym owner Marianne Madsen and industrial engineering student Holli Michaels.

The idea for AbGlo originated inside a health club in Santa Barbara, California, between gym owner Marianne Madsen and industrial engineering student Holli Michaels.

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