ISSUE ONE 15 Bigelow’s primary research focuses on the biomechanical evaluation of human movement, but her secondary interest is engineering design and innovation. Her Engineering Innovation class is a project-based cornerstone course for freshman. It mirrors Dayton’s senior design capstone course, where students work in teams to solve real-world problems presented by industry or community partners. Coleman is director of the Innovation Center at Kettering Health Network, an organization that includes eight hospitals and more than 75 outpatient facilities. She partners with engineers to develop assistive devices that occupational therapists believe will benefit their patients. Working with Bigelow and her students has been a natural fit and mutually beneficial. In the first year of the partnership, Kettering’s occupational therapists requested assistive devices to help patients with neurological problems use the iPad ® . Tablets have been revolutionary as communication and therapy tools, but patients with certain conditions (such as tremors, vision loss, hearing problems, poor motor control, or lack of dexterity) have a difficult time using them effectively. “Kettering’s therapists first present problems to the engineering students,” Bigelow explains, “providing background and answering questions as the students begin to refine their focus. Later, the therapists return for conceptual design reviews. That’s critical, because they provide feedback to let students know if they’re on the right track or need to return to the drawing board. This is exactly what KEEN promotes – the ability to persist and learn from failure, which is a wonderful skill for engineers to develop and have.” Seven prototypes were developed in that first class of students. After testing them with patients, therapists chose the two most promising designs, allowing work to proceed in subsequent semesters with other engineering students. A year later, one of the designs – an adjustable, folding stand that makes the iPad more accessible and easy to use – emerged as the best solution. “The therapists love it and think it’s so much more useful than anything else out there,” Bigelow says. “The patients are thrilled because they provide feedback and feel empowered by it; the therapists love that needs that have been unmet for so long are finally being addressed; and the engineering students benefit from having a meaningful project to work on.” Because they hear firsthand from the customers, students quickly learn the importance of creating something of real value. The original prototype showed promise, but was made with balsa wood and Popsicle sticks, and did not fold for portability. Patients also expressed several wishes not addressed by the original model, and Kettering wanted a more polished design that could be mass produced. Alexander Jules, a senior mechanical engineering student, agreed to take the work started by the team of four first-year students and move it forward, redesigning the stand to fold flat, and using a 3-D printer to create a second, more professional version. “With additional feedback, each model got better,” Bigelow notes. “Version 3.0 was much lighter because Alex understood more about the printing process. Still, the patients and therapists requested one more feature, and Alex wanted to print it as one piece so that the hinges would be more professionally integrated. The result was version 4.0, which everyone deemed was ‘it’.” The collaboration between Dayton and Kettering has been gratifying as well as productive, Coleman says. “One of the most heartening results is to see how the projects we’ve worked on together have inspired the students to discover how they can help people through their work as an engineer. As a healthcare professional, nothing encourages me more. Dr. Bigelow and her students truly support our mission to improve the quality of the lives in the communities in which we serve.” Dayton’s affiliation with KEEN has been beneficial for the university and her students, Bigelow feels. “The skills that we develop are very much in line with KEEN objectives. Productive collaborations, resolute integrity, illuminating communication, multidimensional problem solving, enterprising attitude – those are things we inherently emphasize, and because of that, we are producing better engineers. They are collaborating not only with their teammates, but with actual community partners and patients, so they can see how they are serving society and developing their own passions. What they are experiencing and learning will serve them well in the future.” Bigelow received a KEEN topical grant to help her grow and document the collaboration with Kettering Health Network, as well as generalize objectives that other institutions could possibly adopt. “These funds have given me the time and resources to develop new course modules and assignments focusing on KEEN principles. Everything will then be available to Network schools so that they might be inspired to develop similar partnerships and/or pull from the resources I am developing, such as activities on opportunity recognition. I’m very thankful to KEEN for providing these opportunities as they help develop stronger engineers.” FACULTY