MDRT to sponsor engineering students’ travel to Brazil

| May 26, 2014

The Million Dollar Round Table Foundation has awarded $10,000 through its Worldwide Grant Program to Sweet Briar College to support engineering’s Technology and Society in Brazil projects. A check presentation will be made to Wyllie Engineering Program director Hank Yochum by MDRT member Lynne Crow ’64 on May 30 on behalf of the foundation.

Kate Fanta ’15 and Kiera Cavalleri ’15 demonstrate a vestibular therapy game designed for children with autism or other sensory input disorders at an occupational therapy clinic in lhéus, Brazil.

Technology and Society: A Global Perspective is a biennial engineering course that focuses on designing real-world solutions to problems — especially those facing developing societies. An important component of the course is to teach students to account for cultural, political and economic considerations in their designs. Since 2011, Technology and Society has been co-taught by faculty from Sweet Briar and St. Ambrose University in Iowa to develop assistive devices for patients at occupational therapy clinics in Ilhéus, Brazil.

Working in teams over long distance during the course of the spring semester, students from both schools design and produce several low-cost assistive devices for patients at the clinics, whose clients’ impairments range from autism to complete paralysis. Some of the students travel to Brazil during the summer to test the devices, make necessary adjustments and look for future clients.

Projects that have been delivered and successfully implemented include a vestibular therapy game designed for children with sensory input disorders, a proprioceptive vest for an autistic teenager, and an eye-blink device that allows a teenage girl paralyzed by cerebral palsy to communicate her needs to family members.

The MDRT Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Million Dollar Round Table, an international association of life insurance and financial services professionals. The foundation uses its Worldwide Grant Program to improve the quality of life in communities around the globe.

Writing in support of the grant application, Crow asked the foundation to consider sponsoring students’ travel to Brazil, noting the approximately $3,500 cost is not covered by tuition.

“Most Sweet Briar students are on financial aid, and many could not afford this educational experience without assistance,” Crow wrote.

Yochum notes that Sweet Briar’s engineering curriculum, and the Tech and Society course in particular, stresses the good that engineers do in the world. It’s a message that resonates with many of the students who are drawn to the program — one of only two in the country at women’s colleges that offer an ABET-accredited engineering degree.

That makes the MDRT grant an especially good fit, he says.

“It helps the engineering program meet several important goals. It supports real projects in which our students practice engineering design to improve lives, while they gain valuable experience collaborating with our Brazilian clients and partners. The opportunity to travel to Brazil helps further develop them as socially conscious engineers. The work we do through the Brazil project directly supports the foundation’s goal to ‘improve the quality of life in communities around the world.’ ”

Jennifer McManamay

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Category: Engineering Science