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June 18, 2008

 

 

Trinity University Engineering Science Students Place Nationally

With Design for Lawnmowers Used by Goodwill Industries

 

Kristin Poole

To see lawnmower demonstration,
click here.

SAN ANTONIO – Sophomores at Trinity University have done much more than complete a design as part of a required engineering science course – they have adapted a device to make it easier for workers from Goodwill Industries to operate riding lawnmowers.

 

For their efforts, the students placed third in the National Scholar Award for Workplace Innovation & Design competition. The event was sponsored by a group known as NISH, an advocacy group that encourages the development of creative technologies to remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from entering or advancing in the workplace. 

 

Kristin Poole of Austin, leader of the Trinity student delegation, accepted the award June 11 in Washington, D.C., on behalf of herself and eight other engineering science students. Their charge was to design a way for people with limited leg mobility to operate the pedal of a riding lawnmower using their hand.

 

Ms. Poole noted that the student groups placing ahead of the Trinity sophomore engineers were graduating seniors. “We learned a lot,” she said. “We were communicating with professionals and being responsible for saying we could produce something to help Goodwill.” 

 

 Bob Dugas, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Antonio, expressed gratitude for the work of the students, saying, “Trinity University and the student team exemplify the power of Gen X and Gen Y when they apply their passion to the underserved in our community. Trinity's investment in our mission allows Goodwill to continue changing lives through the power of work.”

 

One of the professors involved in the project was Jack Leifer, assistant professor of engineering science at Trinity, who said, “We were concentrating on a product that could help people.” He added that Goodwill manages a number of lawn maintenance contracts for federal installations throughout San Antonio and was seeking ways to make sure employees of all physical abilities could participate in gainful employment.

 

Last fall, Professor Leifer taught the sophomore engineering science design class, which emphasizes service learning to local nonprofit agencies. This spring, teaching duties shifted to Peter Kelly-Zion, associate professor of engineering science at Trinity. Part of the third-place national award includes $3,000 for Trinity’s department of engineering science.

 

The students designed three prototypes before discovering the third one would work. It was a lever made of carbon steel that was clamped with a metal spring to depress the gas pedal where a foot normally rests. The handle for the lever initially was a knob, but was replaced with a short bar at the suggestion of Gavin Steiger, Trinity’s coordinator of disability services, because it was easier to grasp.

 

The device was tested multiple times on a mowing site at Lackland AFB. Testers from Goodwill told the students that the lever knob was not only simple but ergonomic in design and that the entire device assured their safety during operation. Total cost for the prototype – including materials, development, transportation, and testing – was $118.57.    

 

In a report written for the competition, group members said they did not consider manufacturing the device on a large scale but that the use of simple parts would make the design easy to replicate. The also noted that the lawnmower lever is not unlike devices used by disabled people to drive cars. In addition to Ms. Poole, other engineering science students in the group were Osa Bazuaye of Lagos, Nigeria; Jacob Campbell of Fredericksburg, Texas; Andrew Freeland of Wildwood, Mo.; Iuri Gagnidze of the Republic of Georgia; Kristin Golmon of The Woodlands, Texas; Ryan Sollars of Houston; Sawan Vaidya of Nepal; and Julia Zangirolami of Katy, Texas. Each student will receive a personalized trophy.

 

As a career goal, Ms. Poole is considering biomedical engineering and is participating in a 10-week internship this summer at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for non-biology majors with an interest in biomedical engineering. She said the lawnmower adaptation project confirmed that she “wants to help people.”

 

Trinity University, founded in 1869, is one of the nation’s top private undergraduate institutions. Noted for its superior academic quality, outstanding faculty, and exceptional academic and residential resources, Trinity is committed to the intellectual, civic, and professional preparation of its students.

 

Celebrating over 60 years of community service, Goodwill is changing lives through the power of work.  Each year, Goodwill provides employment services to more than 28,000 San Antonio-area individuals who face employment barriers.   In addition to operating 15 retail stores, 27 donation stations and 12 Job Help Centers in San Antonio, New Braunfels, Seguin, Laredo and surrounding areas, Goodwill handles almost 40 contracts for services, ranging from document management to grounds maintenance. 

 

The National Scholar Award is open to any college student or student team at the graduate or undergraduate level as a service learning opportunity for engineering, computer science, industrial design, physical therapy and occupational therapy students.

 

 

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