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Engineering students use skills to benefit the community

Freshman Andy Robinette of Lexington, Ky. created a device to help children with Cortical Visual Impairment.
Freshman Andy Robinette of Lexington, Ky. created a device to help children with Cortical Visual Impairment.

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JACKSON, Tenn.Feb. 11, 2004 – Needy members of Jackson's community are getting help from an unlikely group of volunteers: engineering students.

A freshman engineering class from Union University has made it a goal to get more involved in helping those who need it by offering assistance to local charities.

"We want the opportunity to help our community," said Don Van, associate professor and chair of the department. "If we keep our customers happy, we will continue to help out any way we can."

Three out of the eight students in the freshman engineering class decided to give their efforts to the Star Center of Jackson, which helps those living with handicaps. Justin Montgomery of Parsons, Tenn.; Andy Robinette of Lexington, Ky. and Joshua Shrewsberry of Troy, Ill. worked on individual projects for the center.

Montgomery invented a device to hold a wheelchair in place. When he went to the Star Center, Montgomery talked to a therapist who had a patient who was wheelchair bound.

"The patient had developmental disabilities and would often attack his therapist during his therapy sessions," said Montgomery. "I was asked to build something to prevent him from moving his wheelchair and giving the therapist the ability to move around the room."

In the end, Montgomery created a foldable, portable block of wood that would not let the chair move forward. Although he never found out the success of his project, Montgomery said he enjoyed it all the same.

"I really liked this project," he said. "At first, I was having trouble coming up with a project. However, I knew I wanted to help and do something beneficial as well."

Andy Robinette created a device to help children with Cortical Visual Impairment. CVI is a disease in which the brain does not interpret what it is seeing, therefore making the person blind. In order to improve sight, doctors put CVI patients in a dark room and flash bright lights, which help the brain to focus and see.

"Since the critical ages for improvement are between one and two years of age, I had to build a portable room that could be brought to the home and used on the child at home," said Robinette. "The portable room is a PVC frame, two feet tall by three feet wide, and is placed over the child on the floor. Buttons are pushed from the outside that light up inside to help the child focus on the lights."

The hope is that the room will teach children how to see. Although his project has been used, Robinette is hoping to continue working on it during his next semester of classes.

"It is not completely finished yet," he said. "I am working on the electrical engineering of it, and I hope to finish that up this semester."

The greatest benefit for students like Robinette, he said, is more than just the grade and the experience.

"I am doing this for fun," he said. "I like the mission part of this project. I like helping people and want to continue doing that."

Josh Shrewsberry created a paddle drum out of a tennis racket frame that is used for musical therapy sessions. The purpose for this drum, said Shrewsberry, was to help muscle development in certain patient's hands.

"Some people are immobile, because they can't control their hands," said Shrewsberry. "We wanted them to learn how to play instruments, so I made this drum."

Shrewsberry's drum is hooked up to a keyboard or a computer that can make different sounds. The harder the patient hits the drum, the louder or softer the noise is. The increase in noise intensity is supposed to be a motivator for hand exercise, he said.

Like his fellow students Montgomery and Robinette, Shrewsberry enjoyed the opportunity to help those in need and to get workplace experience as well.

"I thought it would be fun to work on this project," he said. "I wanted to do something that could be a job for me someday. This is definitely a start."

Of the 20 engineering classes these students have to take, each one has a project to be completed as a part of the class requirements. Unions engineering faculty encourages students to use those opportunities to help a charity.

"We motivate them to see the needs in our community," Van said. "If they want to help, we will connect them to those who need it."

 

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2/23/04 - Freshman Andy Robinette, engineering major, works on a light board designed to help children with Cortical Visual Impairment disease, which causes blindness. When completed, his invention will be used at the Star Center in Jackson.
2/23/04 - Freshman Andy Robinette, engineering major, works on a light board designed to help children with Cortical Visual Impairment disease, which causes blindness. When completed, his invention will be used at the Star Center in Jackson. - Jim Veneman

Media contact: Tabitha Frizzell, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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