The table comes in twos: Two drums, two xylophones, two percussion blocks.
It’s specifically designed for one, but it is used by many.
Benny, a 4-year-old preschooler at Soddy Elementary School with cerebral palsy, needed something he could use for fun during recess. Four engineering students—all freshmen—at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga gave him one.
In the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s Introduction to Engineering course in the Department of Mechanical Engineering for spring semester 2023, students designed and built a table with musical instruments attached and just the right height for Benny, who’s confined to a wheelchair.
The UTC students integrated safety, durability and ease of use into their plans so Benny could play whichever instrument he wanted without trouble. They also made sure there was enough room for other pre-schoolers to join in any impromptu concert.
“Benny loves music and playing instruments. Now he is able to bring that love outside and share it with his friends,” said Sarah Harmer, exceptional education instructor at the Soddy Elementary.
The UTC students said they had a genuine sense of satisfaction watching Benny and other pre-schoolers having fun on the table they’d built.
“This whole semester’s hard work actually paid off for something good, and it was just a great feeling,” said Isaac Wheeler, a mechatronics major.
Other team members were Solomon Jackson and Andrew DeVries, both computer engineering majors, and Blaine Souder, a mechanical engineering major.
The projects are a requirement in the Introduction to Engineering course taught by Dr. Cecelia Wigal, a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. In 2023, eight teams, each with three to six members, had the semester to complete their projects and prepare presentations to explain their concepts, constraints, methods, materials and final product.
For more than 15 years, representatives from Chattanooga’s Signal Centers that serve children and adults with disabilities and their families have brought a stack of projects needed by their clients to the Introduction to Engineering class. Students choose the project they want, then try to turn it from an idea into a reality.
This spring’s projects included a stand to hold a bow for a Loftis Middle School student who competes in archery tournaments but can use only his left arm; and a sensory walk with rocks, turf, molded plastic and other tactile materials for Middle Valley Elementary School students on the autism spectrum.
Some of the complicated projects may seem a bit above freshman pay grade, and Wigal said that’s the point.
“They have to stretch and learn. The object is that they will learn on their own,” she explained.
Ezra Reynolds, assistive technology design specialist at Signal Centers, said about 80% of the students’ projects presented over the years have been used by the organization’s clients.
“That’s a phenomenal rate for a freshman-level class. I love this class because it is a great example of real-world engineering,” said Reynolds, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from UTC in 2004 and an electrical engineering degree from the University in 2007.
In the real world of Soddy Elementary, the music table designed for Benny is ringing all the bells, Harmer said.
“The students from the UTC Engineering program have given him access to greater peer interaction by designing a play space all of the preschoolers can enjoy, those with and without disabilities.”
Student projects for the Technology Symposium
- Accessible Playground Music Activity: Andrew Devries, Solomon Jackson, Blaine Souder, Isaac Wheeler
- Adapted Archery Bow Stand: Chris Higgens, Chris Kmetz, Tyler Land, Nathan Parnaby, Nicholas Rahn, Cody Smith
- Adaptive Percussion: Nola Bailey, Michael Kinsey, Noah McAlister, Cami Rider, Tooba Tanveer
- Air Flow Measurement: Ibrahim Al Quassar, Kelsey Hall, Tory Remme
- Assistive Light Switch: Kenny Allgood, Joey Bowers, Jesse Felan, Brady McGrath, Conner Simpson
- Blind Communicator: Clayton Ashley, Logan Maczko, Nicholas Priddy, Nicholas Clark, Christian Williams
- Horseback Sensory Trail Station: Taegen Baker, Chase Barajas, Sam Lane, Isaac Nunley, Owen Sharp, Malachi Robinson
- SuperHero Sensory Walk: Sam Harrison, Sam Hunt, Ben Sanders, Landen Sims