Ohio University Team Participates in SourceAmerica Design Challenge

The team will demo their assistive technology solution in the championship April 7

By Theresa O’Neill

With the team tagline, “Create for Good,” Ohio University engineering students in Athens, Ohio, have applied classroom learnings toward a unique mission: helping people with disabilities in their jobs. As competitors in the SourceAmerica Design Challenge, they’ve created a breakthrough device and their hard work has paid off. The team will travel to Washington, D.C., on April 7 to compete in the Design Challenge championship. SourceAmerica sponsors the annual competition to give students perspective on disability versus ability, and how they too, like SourceAmerica, can create employment opportunities for this underserved group.

The Design Challenge empowers students to provide assistive workplace technology that employees with disabilities greatly benefit from but often don’t receive. Last fall, the Ohio University team paired with SW Resources, a SourceAmerica network member nonprofit agency employing people with disabilities, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and met with CEO Terah Klein to discuss her business challenge. The soda fountain adapter assembly process was manually intensive and required significant strength. After observing and getting to know the employees with disabilities who were completing this task, the team created and tested a prototype that incorporated both management and employee feedback. The end result was a safe and user-friendly device called Say Yes to the Press. It increased employee efficiency by enabling three adapters to be assembled at once with the pull of a lever, while the simplicity of it made work overall more satisfying. Whereas the previous assembly process was too challenging for most to complete, now all employees can use the new device without experiencing stress on the hands. According to Ohio University teacher Greg Kremer who served as the team’s coach, the device is reliable and easily replicable at low cost.

“When we started this contract, we had only a handful of employees, roughly four, who could work on it. Now all of our employees, over a hundred, can now work on it,” Klein said. “Thanks to the students' device, we can meet customer demand more quickly and increase volume if needed.”

This is Kremer’s 10th year serving as team coach. His teams were awarded first place in the championship in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2014; second place in 2015; and third place in 2012. The team also plans to showcase their Design Challenge project to the public on "Demo Day" held on campus.

As an educator, Kremer said he is honored to coach Design Challenge teams for the far-reaching student and community benefits.

“The Design Challenge increases student motivation, broadens student perspectives, and gives students a chance to be of service to others in a professional sense, using their creativity and engineering skills,” Kremer said.  “In interacting with the employees with disabilities and nonprofit partners, the students also develop empathy, listening skills, prototyping and testing skills, communication skills, project management skills and teamwork skills. Overall the Design Challenge offers a wonderful opportunity for integrative learning.”

Educational opportunity blended with social responsibility is a selling point of the Design Challenge according to Kremer.

 “I encourage any educator who has an interest in offering a great learning opportunity to students while enabling them to make a difference in their community to get involved in the SourceAmerica Design Challenge,” Kremer said.  “It’s very fulfilling for the students and the coach, and helps the partner nonprofits achieve their mission.  Being able to contribute to society through meaningful work is so important for each person's self-respect and human dignity, so these programs that increase job opportunities for those of all abilities offers a wonderful win-win for all involved.”