Engineering Design Students Get Creative to Help Others, Develop ‘Dream’ Ideas

Wednesday, February 03, 2021
Image shows three photos of students working on engineering design projects.

The engineering design program showcases student creativity while producing valuable projects for external clients as students expand their science, engineering, mathematics and communications skills.

It hasn’t taken engineering design students long to use their blossoming problem-solving skills in creative ways this school year to help Wabash Valley children and families with special needs, while also developing their own innovative “dream” projects.

First-year students in the relatively new major took a step back to their own playful childhoods to design several creative toys this fall that are fun and educational. Then, this winter they are redefining their focus to design several products to assist several area families.

At the same time, second-year majors utilized the Product Design Studio in the campus’ Kremer Innovation Center to create hands-on projects for a client that they knew well: themselves.

“Living up to our program’s name, we strive to give our students as many design experiences as possible. This happens while they are learning the building blocks of engineering and technical communications,” says Engineering Design Program Director Patsy Brackin. “We value the design process and assert that most engineering schools don’t focus enough on the customer experience. Students have to know why they’re designing a product – to help a client.”

For the past five years, the students’ efforts have assisted Reach Services, a Terre Haute-based organization providing services to low- and moderate-income individuals with special needs and their families. A variety of toys and education and therapy products now fill a lending library, when they aren’t already in the hands of children and parents.

Soon to be available will be such toys as a Paint by Magnets puzzle game, a Style Strands necklace production kit, a modular skills improvement board, and an eye-stimulating trackball toy.

For Carson Batt, the Paint by Magnets project was personal as well as educational. His little brother has Down Syndrome.

The first-year student from Winchester, Indiana, says, “It's exciting to work on something that will impact somebody. It is very cool to think that I made a toy for someone like (my brother). The project motivated me to do well in my other classes so that I can do more projects like it in the future.”

The puzzle game offers a spin-off of the traditional paint-by-numbers kits. Magnet puzzle pieces encourage children who struggle with fine motor skills to create six vibrant and fun pictures. Each puzzle provides different difficulty challenges. The simpler puzzles have pieces with pegs for easy placement. Assisting Batt on the project were classmates Andi Fiani of Montgomery, Ohio, and Dylan Settles of Clinton, Michigan.

Fiani adds, “The idea that something we created could excite children, specifically those who may not have as many opportunities as other children, is really a special feeling. When we brought one of our earliest prototypes to Reach Services, they had some children play with it and provide us some valuable feedback. One boy said he wanted a dinosaur puzzle. So, we were easily able to add that into our project.”

Now, teams of first-year students are working with local families to produce such items as a bicycle peddling physical training device; an activity desk that helps children draw, paint, work puzzles, and complete homework; and a box for storing multiple toys, crayons, colored pencils, and other items.

“The families and children give the (Rose-Hulman) students some ideas and they always develop really creative ideas. They’re always so receptive to feedback and come back again and again until the project is just right,” says Reach Services’ Therapy Clinic Director Tiffany Busenbark. “You can see that the students share the enthusiasm of the kids and families to get these worthwhile products into their hands.”

Travis Phillips, Reach’s therapy services program manager, states, “We don’t know what we would do without the students’ continued work on these projects. These specially design projects have really enhanced our therapy services. The devices are adored by the children, their families, and our therapists.”

Meanwhile, second-year engineering design majors spent this fall designing “dream projects” for themselves or others – just about anything that came into their creative minds. John Chung’s entrepreneurial endeavor is WhoIsHome, a smart key holder that allows a user to communicate with their Alexa-enabled devices without sacrificing privacy. Matthew Supp’s Solocycle is an idea for a futuristic transportation device where the rider sits inside a rolling wheel. Sophie Baer and Kieya McClung designed a smart motorcycle Helmet X, which could enhance rides by using audio and visual technology.

Engineering design students appreciate the many creative opportunities provided within the academic program.

Batt says, “My favorite part of engineering design is that there is no shallow end. In the first week, we completed our (Branam/Kremer Innovation Center) certifications before most other freshmen even knew what the BIC or KIC were. And by the third week, we were studying stakeholder’s motivations and designing mugs in SolidWorks. Engineering design is an all-around neat major because it’s a taste of every major rolled into one, and to top it all off, we get the chance to make a kid’s day with our designs.”