SourceAmerica Design Challenge is a virtual success

By Jason Golden 04/13/2021
SourceAmerica Design Challenge is a virtual success

With representation from schools across the nation, the 2021 SourceAmerica Design Challenge virtual finals event was a culmination of nearly a year of hard work for student engineering teams. Hosted by disability advocate and Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte, the virtual event featured video presentations and remarks from 8 finalist teams, announced the rankings of these teams and named the inaugural People’s Choice Award winner.

The SourceAmerica Design Challenge is a national engineering competition for high school and college STEM students. The goal of the competition is for teams to create assistive technologies that increase the economic mobility and earning potential of people with disabilities. These technologies can then be replicated in various work environments.

During the April 7 celebration, Mitte announced, in front of a virtual audience topping 300 people, that teams from Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon and California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) in partnership with National Taipei University of Technology, won first place in their respective divisions.

When asked about the win, student engineer Sandra Garcia from Cal State LA said, “It felt amazing. I was nervous this morning…I think it’s like taking a final and then all of that stress goes away. It’s really exciting!”

Zeno Effect is a web-based data tracking platform that uses facial and object recognition to assist in an assembly process and helps managers spot areas needing attention. This demonstrates how data analytics can be leveraged to better achieve production goals for all employees. “This was a wonderful opportunity; we worked countless hours and it was worth it all,” added Garcia.

Dr. Paul Liu was faculty lead for three of the finalist teams, including the winning project from Cal State LA. “These students had the love for this competition, and they used their own time. I’m glad that my team members chose to participate.”

The high school division’s first-place award was given to student engineers from Catlin Gabel School. The team’s project, ZipBag, created a semi-automated device to open and close resealable bags, particularly helpful for people with limb differences and lower dexterity. It also featured an interface for supervisors to program the device for varying bag sizes on the fly and included accessibility features like foot pedals and finger-safe rollers.

“We’d like to thank SourceAmerica for this opportunity – this has been a huge honor,” said Catlin Gabel team member Eric Wang.

More than 100 teams from around the nation registered for the SourceAmerica Design Challenge in the fall of 2020. SourceAmerica Senior Productivity Engineer and Design Challenge lead, Charissa Garcia (no relation to Sandra Garcia) said, “SourceAmerica’s judges were impressed will all of the submissions. Narrowing the finalists down to eight teams was a monumental task because they were all amazing.”

Attendees of the Design Challenge virtual finals event also voted live via text message in a new category: the People’s Choice Award. Catlin Gabel continued their success in the competition, taking home the inaugural accolade for the ZipBag. When asked how it felt to be selected for this honor by the audience, Wang said, “It feels pretty fantastic!”

Wang summed up Catlin Gabel’s success as a mind-opening experience for his team. “As someone who has always planned on studying engineering, I see the real benefits of working in assistive technology. This is a path that I am going to consider for my future.”

Below is a list of the teams recognized at the Design Challenge virtual finals event:

College Team Winners

First Place – California State University, Los Angeles and National Taipei University of Technology
Project: Zeno Effect

Second Place - California State University, Los Angeles and National Taipei University of Technology
Project: Midas Touch

Third Place - California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo – San Luis Obispo, California
Project: Just Kitting Workstation 

High School Team Winners

First Place – Catlin Gabel School – Portland, Oregon
Project: ZipBag

Second Place - Poolesville High School – Poolesville, Maryland
Project: Time Clock

Third Place - Oswego East High School – Oswego, Illinois
Project: Robo-Sticker

Fourth Place - Brentwood High School – Brentwood, New York
Project: The Quick Stamper

Fifth Place - Diamond Bar High School – Diamond Bar, California
Project: Time Clocking and Office Supply Jigs

For more information

For questions or additional details about the SourceAmerica Design Challenge, please visit