6 OU alumni place third of 53 in nationwide design competition

While Ohio University students were in fest mode last spring, a group of seniors were designing a device to help those with disabilities.

Six OU 2012 graduates of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology learned this month they received third place in the AbilityOne Design Challenge, a national competition that draws on the expertise of young college students to design and build a device that will help those with disabilities better perform in their jobs.

The program, funded and run by NISH — a nonprofit organization that is connected with a network of 1,300 other nonprofits — has gained contracts to hire people with disabilities for the past 11 years.

“The advantage of this program is that students are inspired because they are working with these people with significant disabilities,” said Stephanie Hurd, project manager for the competition.

OU students created two devices to help disabled employees at SW Resources, a member of the NISH network in Parkersburg, W. Va., who work on assembling lawn edging.

The first device attaches separate pieces of edging for the employee, instead of having the employee attach them by hand. The second device lines up pegs on the edging before they are taped down, instead of requiring employees to line them up by hand.

For one member of the OU design team, the designing of the devices was personal, as he has an aunt with cerebral palsy.

“When I was a kid, I used to volunteer at her workplace,” said Noah Needler, a 2012 graduate of OU, who has returned to study for his master’s in mechanical engineering. “It’s always been something that’s really rewarding to me, but it’s also something that I’ve been familiar with.”

Although their prize-winning designs can’t be used in other businesses, the team, SW Resources and OU’s mechanical engineering department each received $3,000 for the third place finish.

“It’s nice to win an award, but it’s even nicer when that award comes with significant cash,” said Greg Kremer, chair of the mechanical engineering department. “It turns out that assistive technologies … tend to be good projects.”

In 2008, Kremer selected the theme of “designing to make a difference” for seniors who must complete a senior capstone design project in order to graduate.

All previous OU teams who have entered the AbilityOne competition have placed between third and first place, with last year’s team claiming first, Kremer said.

“When you have that external validation and you have a national design challenge that every time we’ve entered, we’ve done quite well in, it provides that extra level of positive feedback,” he said.


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