Local teens take on a human-centric engineering technology challenge
To be successful in today’s toughest engineering ventures, it may be necessary to master the use of an increasingly wide range of high-tech tools and advanced skills. Today’s engineering educators, however, look beyond meeting these strictly technical demands to set benchmarks for ideal results and optimal problem-solving results.
Instead, they advocate adopting additional priorities in the engineering professions. These include considering things that are not traditionally emphasized or even mentioned in textbooks: a commitment to social responsibility, a sense of community, and even compassion and empathy, as guiding principles.
Jennifer Blain Christen (left), associate professor of electrical engineering at Arizona State University, with two students who won the MAKERS challenge award for the development of a hardware technology solution to help a young child with Down syndrome . Photo courtesy of Southwest Human Development
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Such lofty aspirations are an integral part of the framework for Community Service Engineering Projects, or EPICS, at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The program is based on a common ethic that has led to the emergence of a new concept often described as human-centered engineering.
Based on a concept founded at Purdue University over 25 years ago, ASU’s undergraduate program has provided thousands of students with hands-on learning experiences in social entrepreneurship. They design, build, and deploy systems to help charities, nonprofits, and schools continue their missions by solving engineering problems.
For more than a decade, ASU has been part of a national EPICS consortium that includes dozens of leading universities.
Fulton Schools are also among educational institutions that have expanded their EPICS curriculum to provide these experiences to younger students. Over the past decade, the EPICS High program has introduced thousands of Arizona high school students to how engineering education can be implemented in a way that helps their local communities.
This fall semester, the program reached a particularly impactful culmination in these efforts with its annual EPICS High Olympiad Challenge through collaboration with Southwest Human Development’s fourth annual MAKERS of Change Assistive Technology Challenge. The event helps the organization develop and deliver technologies and services for young children with disabilities.
The students at EPICS High represented 50 of the 69 teams at 12 high schools in the greater Phoenix area – over 400 students in total, including the other members of the MAKERS challenge teams – who were tasked with devising ways to help Gabby, a local 4 year old girl with Down’s syndrome.
“It was perfect for presenting our students with a real-world scenario and challenging them to find solutions with their very real needs in mind,” said Jennifer Velez, senior program coordinator for the team at outreach and recruitment from Fulton Schools.
“They learned things from this experience that they can use to develop their own individual EPICS projects to serve their own communities,” said Velez.
The students were tasked with coming up with a technical hardware or software solution to help Gabby communicate, and ways for her parents to customize that solution for their own needs.
Much of what the students designed and prototyped was impressive, says David Reno, senior director of development and donor sponsorship at Southwest Human Development.
“We saw these teenagers being motivated by the idea of helping a real person, and now I think they are starting to realize that they can learn skills that would give them the ability to improve the lives of people in their own right. own community, ”Reno said.
Some of the teams of about four to six students each came from Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Ariz., Where engineering professor Adam Middleton, the school’s EPICS High instructor, said he was cheering on them. students to step out of their comfort zone and pursue project goals that push them beyond an understanding of engineering to a purely theoretical level.
The MAKERS of Change event “was a great opportunity to open their eyes to the possibilities of what they could learn to do,” said Middleton. “They got super engaged and invested, even passionate about what they could do in the future.”
Middleton and Velez say they are convinced that many teens came away with a clear vision of the basics of human-centered engineering and a fundamental understanding of some specific fields, such as biomedical engineering.
Middleton said he watched the students do a “good detective job” to deepen their understanding of Gabby’s condition and challenges, and then saw students “come up with ideas for prototype mechanical systems. “designed to meet their needs.
“I love that ASU has the source of funding from the EPICS program to help our children. They have access to real mentors and real engineering design processes, ”he said,“ and have the ability to organize presentations to actually showcase their work.
Reno said he was ready to offer continued collaboration between Southwest Human Development and the Fulton Schools EPICS High program for the next year.
“I was very impressed with the heart they show for their mission of adapting strategies for large industrial scale engineering projects to explore instead creative applications that help people overcome their challenges. very specific individuals to lead productive lives, ”Reno said.
“They have the ability to create a high quality engineering challenge event,” he added. “They have shown their expertise in communicating with teachers, orienting students and recruiting experienced judges for student projects. They really took the MAKERS challenge to a whole new level.
Prior to the collaboration with EPICS High, Fulton Schools were already helping the progress of the MAKERS Challenge through contributions from Jennifer Blain Christen, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.
Over the past few years, Blain Christen has helped design the challenge scenario, develop judging guidelines for the competition, organize the event, and judge student projects.
“Each year I am in awe of what the students are able to accomplish in a very short period of time,” she said.
Blain Christen’s work has a strong focus on how to move technological innovations more effectively from the research lab to making it available to the people who will benefit the most. She sees the aspirations of the EPICS and Southwest Human Development programs pursuing this same ambition, particularly through the organization’s ADAPT store, which focuses on designing specialized equipment for children with disabilities.
Professor Tooker Tirupalavanam Ganesh, Associate Dean of Engineering Education at Fulton Schools that studies, designs and implements learning environments, said the recent MAKERS Challenge “provided a particularly rich and engaging experience that will motivate these students to strive to create innovative solutions for years to come. . “
In a video featuring Johan Andrade, a former student of Bioscience High School in Phoenix who attended the event and plans to study engineering at ASU, he talks about the value of the challenge in helping young students. to start cultivating an engineering mindset, and how the ability to help real people in need provided a strong motivation.
Sydney Schaefer, Fulton Schools assistant professor of biological and health systems engineering, served as a judge for the MAKERS challenge. She said the program gives young students important lessons that are more often given to college engineering students today.
“Rather than designing new technologies through the prism of their own assumptions about what other people need to manage their disabilities, engineering students need to learn to get feedback from the people they design for,” Schaefer said. . “It’s really important to listen first and design then, and I think that’s what this challenge teaches. “
The event also provides a good example of the outreach process engineers must learn, Schaefer said.
“It’s about how to effectively bring communities together to produce positive change and progress that improves people’s lives,” she said. “This is exactly the kind of training we need to give our next generations of problem solvers.