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Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Multi-Year Interdisciplinary BmE Capstone Design Course to Enable the Continued Supported Employment of Persons With Disability

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Charles J. Robinson Clarkson University Orcid 16x16

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Director, Center for Rehabilitation Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST), and Shulman Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY.
Adjunct Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY.

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In the USA, a humanitarian need exists to help individuals with disability remain employed in a supported work setting. To that end and in partnership with a local not-for-profit service agency, we have carried out an entrepreneurial multi-year interdisciplinary biomedical engineering capstone project that innovatively involves using commercial industrial electronics to make beverage container recycling more worker-friendly, flow efficient and accountable. This one-semester capstone course is required of all who pursue a Biomedical Engineering or a Biomedical Science and Technology minor. Over eight semesters, 5 to 10 engineering and non-engineering students per semester (and one high school student) worked to build, wire, program and test eight highly instrumented multi-hole modular totalizer tables and one calibrated scale that are now in routine daily use. The tables in each facility are networked together and connected via RS485 to an industrial graphical display/ controller so that intake, outtake and flow data can be captured and analyzed. As an example one center handles 4M recyclables a year!

The project’s mission is to improve the efficiency of, and maximize the dollar return from, a beverage container recycling business, while taking into account the capabilities of those with disability who are employees, and while demonstrating that recycling is a viable option for a successful supported employment business. Its goals are to 1) prevent overpaying customers at intake and to improve the accuracy of the count when the recyclables were returned to the various vendors; 2) use commercial electronics and design-for-manufacturing concepts so that our products are field-maintainable by the host’s staff, 3) introduce students to the disability field and the concept of supported employment through their own research and by visits to the recycling centers; 4) introduce by hands-on experiences college and high school students of varied backgrounds to industrial electronics’ concepts of sensing, counting and process control; 5) have them participate in a de novo real-world design of a large and complex process, and 6) have them prepare and assemble detailed product manuals for each table for use by maintenance staff, and 7) teach them about cost-accounting and sequential manufacturing planning as a precursor to developing a business plan.

Students met for a 1-hr noon planning session on one day, and a 3 or 4 hr work session on another afternoon. No student to date has slacked on doing tasks for the team that needed to be done. All contributed, each in their own way. The best assessment tool has been the 1-page free-form reflection that each student wrote at semester’s end, but each student kept a daily log and the group prepared a final report that included the product manual. Almost all wrote that 1) they learned a lot of new hands-on skills and how to read schematics; 2) they had a different view of those with disability; 3) they liked working on a real problem and doing so as a team; and 4) a good number said that it was the best class that they took at the university (the last comment makes me wonder where the joy resides in other engineering classes!).

Funding and in-kind support was received from EPICS in IEEE (Engineering Projects in Service to the Community), StartUp NY, NYSID’s CREATE (Cultivating Resources for Employment with Assistive TEchnology), a university consortium fellowship, and many industrial partners.

Robinson, C. J. (2019, June), Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Multi-Year Interdisciplinary BmE Capstone Design Course to Enable the Continued Supported Employment of Persons With Disability Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32907

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