Two teams from Lawrence Technological University are among three national finalists in the SourceAmerica Design Challenge, an engineering competition where students create assistive technology to enhance workplace success and employment options for people with disabilities.
The LTU teams created their products as part of a sophomore engineering design studio course in spring semester 2016-17, which ended in May 2017, and fall semester 2017-18, which ended in December 2017.
SourceAmerica, a national nonprofit agency with a mission to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities, hosts the Design Challenge annually to bring greater awareness of the need and the impact of assistive technology in the workplace. About 40 universities competed in this year’s challenge.
The products designed by the LTU students help clients of Services To Enhance Potential (STEP), a SourceAmerica network member nonprofit based in Livonia that works to improve employment opportunities for the disabled.
The spring semester class from last year designed a device to help people with dexterity impairment assemble a clip that is used in automotive headrests. Team members Victoria Pellerito of Macomb Township and Larance Haji of Sterling Heights, both juniors majoring in Mechanical Engineering, said they learned plenty in the process.
“Your first idea is never the best,” Pellerito said. “You will always think it is, the entire time, and then it’s not.”
Pellerito said her inspiration for the design came when she was clicking a retractable pen. The device uses spring-loaded technology to put a pin into the clip.
The fall semester team from this school year designed a simple but clever block of 3D-printed plastic called the Cube XL. The device helps people with dexterity issues assemble struts that hold pipes to mounts in ceilings. Cube XL allows struts of varying sizes to be assembled with only one hand.
The inventor was team members Austin Bertuca, a Mechanical Engineering sophomore from Coloma, who said the design simply popped into his head. Fellow team members George Arango, a Mechanical Engineering sophomore from Isabella, Puerto Rico, Bram Ligon, a Mechanical Engineering sophomore from Rochester Hills, and John Bowen, a sophomore double major in biomedical engineering and molecular and cell biology, said they learned in the process as well.
“Know what your customer wants, not what you think they want,” Ligon said. “They’ve been doing this for years, they know,” added Bowen.
Cristi Bell-Huff, director of the Studio for Entrepreneurial Engineering Design (SEED) at LTU, and Heidi Morano, SEED project engineer, serve as the team’s coaches and instruct the course in which the project was conducted. They say a design course is unusual in engineering education at the sophomore level, and gives students a unique opportunity to talk to real customers and design a real product.
The LTU teams will compete in the SourceAmerica national competition in Washington, D.C. April 9-11.
According to SourceAmerica Design Challenge Program Manager Charissa Garcia, the benefits of competing for students can be far-reaching. Past competitors have shared their competition experience in job interviews and on college applications; others have patented their innovations