Interdisciplinary Approach

An Intersection of Engineering, Technology & Occupational Therapy

“I worked with professors separate from my courses to learn and manipulate equations for my needs,”

– Jared Hilt ’21

From a swimming “treadmill” to a custom-designed brace, students at the University of Indianapolis R.B. Annis School of Engineering are working alongside faculty and industry experts to design solutions through partnerships and real-life problem-solving. Collaboration across the institution pairs a unique aspect of the curriculum, the DesignSpine, with clients including the Greyhound swim team and the University’s School of Occupational Therapy.

As early as their sophomore year, students form interdisciplinary teams and work collectively to tackle a singular problem. Students may choose from seven specialized areas of study in the exciting and fast-growing fields of Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Software Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Industrial & Systems Engineering, Computer Science and General Engineering.

These early hands-on mentoring experiences, coupled with the DesignSpine curriculum, create an incubator for exciting partnerships both on and off campus. Partners include Citizens Energy Group and Easterseals Crossroads Industrial Services, as well as clients even closer to home. Such was the case when Jason Hite, head coach of the men’s swimming & diving team, sought a solution to enhance training for swimmers.

“We wanted to see if a group of engineering students might be interested in designing an ‘endless pool’ for the Greyhounds’ diving well,” Hite explained.

Essentially a treadmill for swimmers, the “endless pool” includes equipment allowing coaches to observe an athlete swimming in place from every angle with the goal of improving stroke technique. Engineering students such as Jared Hilt ’21 (mechanical engineering, physics and mathematics) were up to the challenge.

Hilt’s group worked on the proposal and learned to support team decisions with math, simulation and testing. Hilt’s team often relied on principles that are typically taught in higher-level courses.

“I worked with professors separate from my courses to learn and manipulate equations for my needs,” Hilt said.

The process included conceptualization, design cost analysis and feedback from various stakeholders, including engineering faculty, student peers and Coach Hite. The team will work on a prototype during the 2019 winter semester.

“My hope is to continue the collaborative relationship between athletics and academic programs to impact future generations of student-athletes,” said Hite, who is also exploring partnerships with kinesiology to provide student-athletes with feedback on movement, diet and nutrition.

“Interdisciplinary education is a cornerstone of the R.B. Annis School of Engineering curriculum,” said Dr. José Sánchez, associate dean of engineering. “These collaborative environments help narrow the skills gap and develop students for success in the 21st century.”

“Interdisciplinary education is a cornerstone of the R.B. Annis School of Engineering curriculum,” said Dr. José Sánchez, associate dean of engineering. “These collaborative environments help narrow the skills gap and develop students for success in the 21st century.”

Learning Through Continuity

An equally innovative collaboration is  occurring between the R.B. Annis School of Engineering and the College of Health Sciences. When Dr. Erin Peterson, assistant professor of occupational therapy, wanted to improve a medical device for patients with wrist injuries, engineering students shared their expertise to design a custom orthosis, a brace that fits over the patient’s wrist. The 2017-18 cohort began the project, and a new group of students refined the original design during the current academic year.

Marko Tasic ’21 (industrial and systems engineering, mathematics) was part of the team working on the wrist brace.

“It’s really great to work with another department like the School of Occupational Therapy because it gives us a different perspective on problem-solving. We get to see things outside of an engineering aspect,”
Tasic said.

Peterson and her colleagues hope to use the prototype in a future research study conducted by UIndy occupational therapy doctoral students.

“This new design for a custom wrist orthosis [brace] has the potential to be mass-produced, marketed and used by patients and clinicians, so it is exciting that the students get to engage in real-life, problem-based learning,” Peterson said. “The DesignSpine has been a great opportunity for the School of Occupational Therapy to collaborate with the School of Engineering to make tangible products for use by patients and clinicians.”

The groups are now in the process of building prototypes of their designs, which they will unveil during the spring semester.

“I think it’s phenomenal. I’m only a sophomore and I’m already working on a real project that has the potential to positively impact a lot of people,” Tasic said.

A 1/6 scale prototype of the endless pool diving well device

A 1/6 scale prototype of the endless pool diving well device

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