First place teams Concord High School and CSULA win the 2017 Design Challenge

By Theresa O'Neill

Following a trip cross-country, Ana Alvarez, an employee with a disability at FVO Solutions in Pasadena, Calif., arrived at the 2017 SourceAmerica Design Challenge championship in Washington, D.C., prepared to win. Her enthusiasm was punctuated by her gratefulness to the Design Challenge students from California State University, Los Angeles, who created assistive technology that, according to Alvarez, has helped her do her job on a production line "faster, better and easier."

Following a full day of presentations and demonstrations by the five high school and three college finalists, the winners were announced. The CSULA team won the Design Challenge college division with the Lean Master. Using LEAN engineering techniques, they reformatted the fabrication process of a two-hole puncher for FVO Solutions, a SourceAmerica network member nonprofit agency in Pasadena, California. With the team's support, production cycle time was reduced by 50 percent.

For the second year in a row, the Concord High School Design Challenge team clinched first place in the high school division. They created an interactive weighing device for Becky Longo, an employee with a disability who bakes and packages dog treats for Waggies by Maggie and Friends in Wilmington, Delaware. Longo benefited from the device's visual and color-coded cues, which helped her weigh dog treats during the packaging process with greater ease and efficiency.

Other winners included:

College division
2nd place: Ohio University
3rd place: Lawrence Technological University

High school division
2nd place: Copley High School, Delta Snap
3rd place: Copley High School, TRIPS
4th place: Olathe East High School
5th place: Wethersfield High School

Kevin Ryan, SourceAmerica productivity engineer and Design Challenge judge, was impressed by the level of thought and care put into the devices.

"What impressed me most was the students' ability to understand the needs of the employees and willingness to solve their challenges through innovation," Ryan said.

Earlier in the week, student teams met with congressional representatives on Capitol Hill to discuss their Design Challenge experience and advocate for the people they served during the competition. They also documented their efforts on social media as part of SourceAmerica's finalist Twitter contest. Even Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., went on Facebook Live during the meeting to share her support.

At the championship, SourceAmerica led a "Spotlight on Employment" segment where the employees with disabilities discussed how assistive technology created through the Design Challenge had impacted their lives and workplace success. An employee with a disability at Services to Enhance Potential told the audience that his confidence is even stronger, saying, "If I can do it, anyone with disabilities can do it."

By day's end, it was clear the employees with disabilities supported through the Design Challenge weren't the only ones leaving the competition with a deep sense of gratitude.

"I have a new perspective on how capable people with disabilities are," said Rowan Davis, member of the first place Design Challenge winning team Concord High School. "Getting to know Becky, knowing we were helping her and seeing her smile―that's what made it all worthwhile."