Program Pairs Engineers and Disabled Students

Serena Shubert

Two of DO-IT's goals are to help students with disabilities hone their interests in science, engineering and mathematics and to encourage them to stay in school, completing their college degrees. Several innovative programs across the country share similar goals.

An example is a program at Howard University that pairs disabled students with engineering students in an effort to keep undergraduate engineers in school. The idea is to give engineering students real-life problems that will peak their interest while providing a service to others in the community. According to an article by Robert Bellinger in December 18, 1993 edition of The EE Times (a weekly newspaper written for electronic engineers), the partnership seems to be working.

Howard's student electrical engineers, working with a $20,000 grant from NEC Foundation of America, teamed up with disabled students from Sharpe School to find out what kinds of products would be most helpful. The engineers then designed and built prototypes of products to fulfill specific needs.

Here are a two examples of some of the working prototypes developed:

  • a rapid charger that recharges the battery that powers an electric wheelchair in an hour--a process that usually takes eight hours
  • a more sensitive remote control that uses tongue pressure. This device turns appliances on and off

The engineering students learned how to work through all stages of a project--from the design to prototyping to marketing--but more importantly, they learned to think of the end user.

But perhaps the most important outcome of this project was the relationships that developed between the Howard and Sharpe students. Professor Gary Harris, who developed the program, said that the projects helped breakdown perceived notions that the Howard students had about persons with disabilities.

Even after the projects were finished, several of the team members continued to communicate with each other to preserve the friendships that developed over the course of the program.