Calling all…. Engineers?
Doctors, Nurses, Teachers… Engineers? LeTourneau University Engineering Students Get Lesson in Service
The professionals that typically come to mind when people think of serving professions include nurses, teachers, and fire fighters. Dr. Matthew Green wants engineers added to that list. The Assistant Professor of Engineering at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, is using class projects to honor the history and values of the engineering profession while teaching future engineers to think of the people they are serving.
Dr. Green presented a challenge to his Fundamentals of Engineering Design students after an East Texas mother contacted him about making a remote control toy accessible to her young son, whose neuromuscular disorder made it difficult for him to use a toy off the shelf. Ninety freshmen were split into teams and asked to adapt a regular radio control toy using a LEGO®Mindstorms kit and no more than $10 in non-Lego parts.
Radio control toys were chosen because of the variety of toys available and their appeal to hobbyists of all ages. Students had to operate the adapted remote while simulating the impaired muscle control and motor skills commonly experienced by individuals with Cerebral Palsy. The projects were scored based on functionality, user interface, size, appearance, and ease of maintenance.
Dr. Green hopes assignments like this will inspire his beginning engineering students to think of engineering as more than a good career choice. He wants them to share his excitement about the power of engineering to help others. “It’s not a high profit field to work with individuals with disabilities, but it is a high human need field and a chance to improve the quality of someone’s life.”
Letourneau University would like to see this service project continue outside the classroom as part of an online open source for do-it-yourself adapted remote control designs. Build instructions based on the LEGO® project have been posted on the Letourneau University School of Engineering and Engineering Technology website. Dr. Green and his students hope that others will follow the instructions then share their experiences or take the idea a step further and create their own design for an adapted controller.
“We would be honored to post ideas that build on this and that improve on our design. We want to post pictures of peoples’ adapted controller projects or share links to their websites. The more this can help kids with Special Needs, the happier it will make us.”