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Engineering Science Students Win First Place in National Design Competition
By Susie P. Gonzalez

More information:

Video of project

Project Abstract and photos

Something about the medical technology field appealed to Katharine Avakian, a Trinity University senior from Tulsa, Okla. But it took an engineering science design course to shape her thinking. As a junior, she suggested a project to monitor a patient’s vital signs at home because, well, nobody wants to devote a year to work that doesn’t interest them. Hers was only one of two student proposals to be accepted for research, and it won first-place honors in a national design competition.

The Accessible Home Vital Signs Monitoring System designed by four Trinity University engineering science students beat designs by students from Columbia University and Marquette University, which won second and third, respectively. The Trinity students were reimbursed for as much as $2,000 in design costs and won a $1,000 prize for capturing first place in the 2006-2007 Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Medical Instrumentation senior design competition. A team from Trinity won second place during the previous year’s exercise by designing and producing a device that could ease monitoring challenges for millions of diabetics who check blood glucose levels daily.

The other Trinity students on the 2007 team were Matthew Bardwell of Kingwood, Texas; Michael Giese of San Antonio; and Kevin Wallof of Rowlett, Texas. Bardwell graduated in May and plans to enter Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall. The other three students are candidates for graduation in December. The group’s faculty adviser was Farzan Aminian, professor of engineering science.

Although the concept for the project was hers, Avakian says there was not a group leader. “We were all equals on this project,” she says, adding that Bardwell wrote reports about the project and designed human testing procedures, found test subjects, and analyzed test results. Giese and Wallof wrote computer programs for the project as well as HTML codes so that their research could be posted on the University’s Web site.  Avakian designed a three-dimensional computer rendering and arranged (with Giese’s help) for Allied Plastics of San Antonio to build the prototype. She continued to refine the device until it could work electrically and then took pictures and a video to post on the Web. You can see it by clicking

Avakian says the project will impact her future. “Through the actual designing and building of the project, I’ve verified that I want to go into the medical technology industry,” she says. “I like knowing that at the end of the day that my work has helped someone. It is nice to be able to see the direct connection.”

 When she was researching possible projects, she said those posed by the RERC interested her because of the focus on helping the disabled who may not be able to use medical equipment. The group actually modified a blood-pressure cuff for the ease of patients with limited mobility.

Bardwell, who spent the summer in an internship as a high school minister at First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, calls the project “challenging but very rewarding.” He says it taught him about project management, time maintenance and meeting deadlines, and about managing budgets. “These principles I will carry with me in whatever I do in the future,” and he also realizes that skills he learned at Trinity will help him meet the needs of other people.

To read the group’s project abstract and see photos, go to

© 2007 Trinity University

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