A small smile appeared on the young girl’s face as she listened to the high-pitched sound coming from the whiffle ball. The sound helped the elementary student locate the ball after her classmate hit it from a specially designed baseball tee.
Both of the students are blind. On a recent afternoon, they were in a classroom at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory testing toys designed by first-year engineering students. The students are enrolled in CU engineering instructor Seth Murray’s freshman projects class.
“It’s a great experience for the students because they learn a lot about basic engineering design and testing, how to manufacture prototypes and they get to work with clients,” Murray said.
This particular project required student teams to design playground toys for children who are blind. Each team had eight days to complete the task, which includes having a test model for the children to try out during the demonstration in the lab.
“This project originated because it is needed by physical education teachers and kids,” Murray said. “PE is something that a lot of blind students in the country get excluded from more than they should. As engineers, we’re trying to develop solutions that help people and this project is a great fit.”
Rachel Gudenzi and Katherine Powers’ team worked to design a tether ball that would be safe for blind children. Powers learned a lot about the difficulty of taking a product from the lab to real life.
“It’s really different when you’re thinking about what someone is going to do with your product, and then when you watch them play with the toy you developed you see that they might do things differently than you expected,” Powers said.
Murray said he enjoys teaching the class because it gives students a good example of what engineering is really like.
“Engineering is building prototypes and testing them, and working with customers to figure out what they need and then meeting those requirements,” Murray said. “These are freshman engineers so they don’t have a lot of experience in design yet, but this project gives them a big dose of it.”
Overall, the project also shows the students the value of teamwork.
“One of the things I learned was that you have to work together to solve problems,” Gudenzi said. “Through out the rest of our entire careers we’re going to be working with other people to solve different problems and taking everybody’s ideas into consideration is the biggest thing that I have taken from this class.”
Murray directs the College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Undergraduate Engineering Management and Entrepreneurship program. The program, which works in partnership with the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship in the Leeds School of Business, helps undergraduate engineering students leverage their technical knowledge for business success in today’s highly competitive global marketplace.