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Humanitarian Design Projects: Helping Children With Cerebral Palsy

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Design for Community and Environment

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.705.1 - 11.705.15



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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Brian Thompson Michigan State University

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Brian S. Thompson is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. Currently he serves as the Departmental Design Coordinator. Dr. Thompson has published in the following areas: mechanisms, smart materials, composite materials, flexible fixturing, robotics, variational methods and finite element techniques. He received a BSc and MSc from Newcastle University, England, in 1972 and 1973 respectively, and a Ph.D. from the University of Dundee in Scotland in 1976.

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Alan Haddow Michigan State University

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Alan Haddow is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. Currently He teaches in the area of vibrations and mechanical design. Dr. Haddow has research interests in experimental, nonlinear dynamics and vibrations. He received his B.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1983, both in mechanical engineering from the University of Dundee, Scotland.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Humanitarian Design Projects: Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy Introduction

The fundamental role of engineers is to serve society, and the most important ingredient of any society is the people. However, in the unfortunately chaotic and hectic lifestyles of the 21st century this fundamental role is often lost in the mists of professional practice when an engineer is required to design a nominally mundane item like a door handle for the next generation of automobiles. A profoundly meaningful and very effective way of educating engineering students, which exposes them to the societal service traditionally offered by professional engineers, is to utilize senior level humanitarian design projects. Such projects of experiential learning immerse student teams in complicated tasks that ultimately help people less fortunate than themselves.

Since 1998 the Design Program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University has incorporated a series of humanitarian projects in the industrially-funded capstone projects class. During the past two years, four humanitarian projects have focused on the design, fabrication, and testing of mobility devices for children with cerebral palsy. These demanding projects have been very successful in providing our students with an outstanding engineering experience, providing the department with significant good-citizenship publicity, and, most important of all, improving the life of numerous children.

Service learning has certainly become one of the most innovative aspects to engineering education. One such example is the EPICS program at Purdue, which involves the volunteer work of engineering students in the community1. Another example is the Humanitarian Engineering Program, which is sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, at the Colorado School of Mines2. The New Engineer Program at the University of Dayton3 involves student teams in the conceptual designs of bicycles for different users and applications.

This paper shares our experiences in the development and implementation of these projects. The logistics of these projects is discussed, in addition to identifying potential projects and customers, the necessary resources, how to identify qualified students and faculty, and finally issues concerning project management. Each project will be presented in some detail including the technical and logistical challenges faced by the student design teams. The paper concludes with some final observations and discussion on the publicity and visibility aspects of humanitarian projects.

Project Logistics

These humanitarian projects are undertaken by teams of senior-level mechanical engineering students registered in the capstone design course ME 481, Mechanical Engineering Design Projects, for a team of senior-level mechanical engineering students. Most of the projects are industrially-based in this course with the student team working on a funded project. However, each semester, at least one project is humanitarian-based where the student team is challenged to make a difference in the lives of people that are less fortunate than themselves. Such projects

Somerton, C., & Thompson, B., & Haddow, A. (2006, June), Humanitarian Design Projects: Helping Children With Cerebral Palsy Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--37

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