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Students Driven By Innovation and Desire to Help Others

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Jeff Haessler

Engineering students partner with Craig Hospital to help paraplegics

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“Money isn’t the motive. Enable technologies I think is way more satisfying. Knowing that your product is helping the lives of people.” So says Oscar Reyes III, for whom innovation is a primary motivation. That’s why he and two other DU mechanical engineering students designed and built an adaptive seat for people with paraplegia.

Engineering student Samantha Phillips was part of that yearlong design-build team at the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Craig Hospital came to us with the problem of trying to have one of their former patients come and participate in the Dragon Boat Festival held every year out at Sloan’s Lake in Denver. No past seat exists out there that will attach an adaptive seat to a Dragon Boat seat,” she says.

Through three quarters, students worked on different phases of the project, with the final phase involving building, prototyping and manufacturing the seat.

“It’s great working with the students at the University of Denver,” says Deepa Dierickx, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital.

This is the fifth year DU has partnered with Craig Hospital, which works with people with spinal cord and brain injuries.

“Craig Hospital participates in a dragon boat festival every year, and this year and last year we had a couple of paddlers who are alumni of Craig and would benefit from the use of an adaptive seat — rather than just sitting on a seat-bench because they can’t maintain their balance in that position.”

Wil Johnston, the third member of the student engineering team, was excited to take what he’s learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-life situation.

“It was my first engineering project where I worked with an actual, legitimate company rather than just doing a project in school. So, it was really interesting to get the feedback from the customer, [where] we usually just get grades.”

“It’s just fun to see and help them grow in their projects — to allow them to be able to hang out with actual real-life customers, rather than just their professors,” Dierickx says.

Johnston, like the rest of the team, says it was great to provide options to people with paraplegia, to help them stay active and participate in recreational activities. “That’s part of what engineering is: Providing possibilities, and I think we’ve done that.”