S-L Student & Faculty Reflections

Enabling Engineering: A Reflection

Written by S-L Graduate Assistant Courtney Woodman & S-LTA Julia Hayward

On December 4th, 2018, students in Professor Waleed Meleis’ Enabling Engineering course, along with members of the student group, gave their final presentations on the progress on their projects.

What is Enabling Engineering? In the words of Julia Hayward, Service-Learning Teaching Assistant for the Enabling Engineering course, “Enabling Engineering is a course where students are able to design their own projects to help improve the lives of [persons] with a special need or disability.”

The objective of the course is to have students work in teams of one or two, actively collaborating with a client who has a disability, or knows someone with a disability. From those interactions, students learn firsthand about that particular disability and work specifically on projects aimed at alleviating some type of inconvenience or addresses a need of someone with that disability.

Enabling Engineering does just what it says in the course title, enables students to apply engineering skills to meet the needs of a person or people in the community while also providing an opportunity to learn more about how disability affects people and communities.

The course not only provides an outlet to hone engineering skills, but also creative thinking and teaches students how to communicate and collaborate with a real-world client. It isn’t just about enabling students to learn about engineering, but also enabling people with disabilities by allowing them to gain greater independence, reduce medical burden and increase social connectedness.

This semester, student’s projects ranged from a device that enables amputees and other persons with limb loss to workout, a system that allows Deaf persons to enjoy music through visualization, and a wearable device to help the blind navigate more easily, among many others.

I was fortunate to not only be in attendance for the students’ final presentations, but also to sit with Julia and speak about her experiences with Enabling Engineering:

CW: As an International Affairs major and someone who had been a Service-Learning TA (S-LTA) in the past, what has it been like being the TA for Enabling Engineering?

JH: As an International Affairs major without an engineering background, it was challenging because the students had a very technical perspective/lens going into these projects. On the other hand, I think it was different (and necessary) to have a different perspective. I was able to offer insights of how to manage people/clients to compliment their existing technical skills and to teach things like organization and planning techniques.

CW: What would you say was the highlight of working with these students and their clients? 

JH: I really enjoyed seeing students develop strong connections with their clients and work on projects that they were passionate about. One example that really stands out is when I went with Jeremy to meet his client in Scituate, MA. We spent 2 hours with the client which provided the student with a lot of helpful ideas and insights. I was also able to learn a lot about prosthesis and just how prominent prosthetic limbs and limb loss are in the community. Having the opportunity to work with and learn from someone who is so influential within the community who is also an educator was a great experience, not just for the student but for me too. Jeremy really shined as an engineering student who was able to combine his passion for engineering with helping the community.

CW: How was this experience different from your other S-LTA roles? 

JH: In the past, I’ve always worked with a first-year writing class with the same faculty member. This time around, the Community Partners weren’t established at the beginning of semester, so I had to work alongside students and faculty to create partnerships.

CW: What has been the biggest take away from your experience this semester?

JH: The needs of the client should be put before preferences of student projects, certain disabilities such as blindness or deafness aren’t well educated about and best way to learn about these disabilities is by speaking to the people who have the disabilities themselves.

After speaking with S-L Teaching Assistant, Julia, she provided me with a brief overview of each student’s project:

Facial Recognition

Creators: Jerry Cui and Jenn Dingqian

The facial recognition project is an application to help children with autism be able to read and identify emotions based on clues. Students Jerry and Jenn designed the app based off of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, a methodology centered around positive reinforcement and setting measurable goals for children on the spectrum.

The Emotional Recognition Training Device is an interactive app that can be downloaded onto a computer or iPad to help children identify emotions and strengthen their ability to recognize live facial expressions in a quantifiable fashion. Although the group had no official client, they collaborated with Autism Specialist and Northeastern Faculty Quannah Parker-Mcgowan who teaches in the school of Education.

Amputee Workout

Creator: Jeremy Su

This project, created by Jeremy Su in collaboration with his client Mike Benning, aimed to design an attachment for people experiencing limb loss, enabling them to workout. Jeremy created a terminal device that attaches to a quick disconnect write prosthetic for a below elbow amputee. The project was designed to help athletes, veterans, and other people who have suffered from cancer or disabilities and as a result have some type of limb loss. The client, Mike Benning, a below the elbow (BE) amputee, lost his limb to cancer as a child. Now, Benning travels and educates people on prosthesis and made an attachment to allow people to work out. The scope of the project is to allow amputees to lift weights and use machines in the gym.

Blind Navigation

Creators: Gordon Lo

The scope of Gordon’s project was to create a wearable device which enables people who are completely or partially blind to gain spacial awareness and navigate themselves independently. The glasses are designed to give the user spacial awareness by using ultrasonic sensors to detect objects and different audio alerts as indicators if they are getting close to a wall or obstacle. The client, Carol Rosskam’s father, is completely blind and requires assistance for when he is alone in his house and needs to move about.

Cup for the Blind

Creators: Ziye Lu and Quan Peng

Carol Rosskam, works at NU, her father is blind and going deaf

Students Ziye and Quan designed a cup for people who are blind and have difficulty knowing when their cup of water or liquid is full or safe to drink. The cup created by these students is made of microwave and dishwasher safe plastic, and was designed to with affordability and accessibility in mind. On the handle, there is a lever that will tap the users hand when the cup has become more than halfway full. This project was designed for NU staff member Carol Rosskam’s father who is blind and can benefit from this device.

Pedaling Music

Nia Fears and Joey Palmieri

The pedaling music project was a collaborative effort between engineering students, Nia Fears and Joey Palmieri for The Carter School. The Carter school is a Boston Public School for children with cognitive delays, physical handicaps and complex medical conditions that require more intensive care or individualized instruction. The goal of this device is to encourage these children to engage in physical activity by using a bike/restorator that plays music when the child or student pedals. The students painted the restorator/bike and programmed it to play stimulating, engaging music when a child tries to pedal the bike. Once completed, the project will be used by students at the Carter School.

Music Experience for the Deaf

Creators: Mira Maalouf and Joseph Ravalese

The project, Music Experience For the Deaf was created by Mira and Joe to provide a unique music experience for those who are d/Deaf or have difficulty hearing by utilizing the other available senses such as sight and touch. Mira and Joe’s project uses a 3.5mm jack that can be connected to a computer, iPod or electronic instrument to give users a visual LED experience to enjoy music in a new way. Joe and Mira’s client, Laurie Achin, works in the American Sign Language (ASL) department here at Northeastern. The students learned that she enjoys playing the drums which helped them narrow down the scope of their project by using LED’s and color to provide an interactive experience for her.

Cooling System

Creator: Jack Wang

The cooling system project, created by Ehsan and Jack was designed to help people with multiple sclerosis regulate their body temperature. The cooling system itself is a cushion with various sensors, batteries and motors that are programmed to give off colder temperatures for the user who is overheating. Their client, Janice Ward has multiple sclerosis and was looking for a cushion or vest she could use in the car or at home to help alleviate pain and regulate body temperature.

To learn more about Enabling Engineering and past projects, visit their website here!

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