Helping hand – Jessie Gray and Wyatt Been make last minute adjustments to the sink.

The result was a system that worked on pumps and two jugs of water

Cookeville – At the end of this past fall semester, students from Tennessee Tech University’s class, Tech Engineering for Kids (TEK), pulled up to nine-year-old Hayden Gribble’s school in Sparta to hand-deliver their final project, a fully functioning sink that is just her size and accessible from her wheelchair.

“People learn best by doing, and my students learn best when they are putting their coursework and new engineering skills into practice,” said Stephen Canfield, mechanical engineering professor at Tech. “We have a big need in Middle Tennessee for custom-designed assistive technology for children with special needs. The TEK program matches these child needs with my students learning engineering.”

The class consisted of five mechanical engineering majors: Wyatt Been of Hendersonville, Tennessee; Obang Lwanmianga of Antioch, Tennessee; Meredith Nye of Jackson, Tennessee; Luke Miller of Crestwood, Kentucky; and Jessie Gray of Gallatin, Tennessee. 

Canfield works with various partners in Middle Tennessee to find recommendations for children in need of engineering services. After pouring over applications from places such as school systems, Tennessee Early Intervention System, Tennessee Department of Children’s Special Services, therapists, medical professionals, the Bridges program at Tech and others, he selects which children’s needs would best match what the students are learning.

For Gribble, what she wanted and needed most was her own sink.

“It’s something Hayden has wanted for a long time: her own sink that she can roll up to,” her aunt, Stacy Scott, said. “A regular sink is hard for her to use, and she wants to be able to do it herself. She’s very independent.”

It proved to be the perfect challenge for the students in Canfield’s class. The sink had to be adjustable to fit Gribble as she grew. It had to be able to produce water, but not be tied into a building’s plumbing because she needed it to be portable.

She had also requested space to be able to lay her dolls down while she changed their clothes.

“And we got that her favorite color was pink, so of course it needed to be pink,” Been said.

The result was a system that worked on pumps and two jugs of water. One could be used to recycle the water if Gribble was just playing with her dolls. Another jug could be used to collect dirty water if she was using the sink to wash her hands or brush her teeth. They also created a second table with a mirror where she could lay her dolls down.

Pictured are from l. to r.: Students Wyatt Been, Meredith Nye, Obang Lwangmianga, Luke Miller and Jessie Gray stand with the table they designed for a young girl in a wheel chair.

“During the early stages of the project, the team was having a difficult time in finding suitable approaches to meet the technical challenges of this project,” Canfield said. “This is a normal experience in this course project, since the students are just beginning to gain knowledge and experience with practical issues in mechanical design. But after two early design reviews, the team selected a great solution and set about completing the design process and then moving to fabrication.”

However, the struggles were worth it. Gribble was all smiles when Been and Lwanmianga presented the sink to her at her school and showed her aunt how it fit together and could be taken apart for easy transportation.

In addition to being a toy, the sink and tables will give Gribble more practice in exercising her hands and further developing fine motor skills, according to Larry Thompson, special education supervisor of White County Schools.

“I loved being able to work on a project that was going to have a real impact on someone’s life,” Gray said. “That’s the whole reason I wanted to study engineering in the first place. I wanted to design and build things that will help people. I’m thankful that Tech provides an opportunity that I can work on a project like this while I’m still in school.”

Gray continued.

“I learned a lot about what engineering looks like outside of school with this project,” said Gray. “Having to work with a team, design and work through an entire project from the design to fabricating, helped me to experience the whole process from start to finish. I learned a lot about working with clients, working within a budget and working with a team.”

Canfield said students take every opportunity to help the community.

“Our students genuinely care for others and are motivated to help others,” said Canfield. “When given the chance to do this as part of their course work, the results are amazing in both learning and in helping our community. The TEK program is just one example of what makes Tennessee Tech such a great place for students and faculty to learn and grow. I am proud to be part of it.”

Photos courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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