A group of Ohio University mechanical engineering students won first place in a national design contest last Wednesday. The students' invention will create six part-time jobs for individuals with disabilities served by ATCO/Passion Works Studio.
The AbilityOne Design Challenge is a national competition to encourage high school and college students to develop assistive technologies and inventions to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities. This is OU's second year in a row of having a winning team.
The OU team, called "Flower Power," partnered with Passion Works for a senior capstone design class to create a new metal-cleaning machine that allows safe washing of grimy metal newspaper plates used to make the Athens studio's famous Passion Flowers.
Greg Kremer, the team's coach and OU engineering professor, said the process previously had to be done with a power washer in an outdoor space.
Wayne Savage, studio coordinator for Passion Works, said the process originally raised too many safety concerns to let the individuals served by the program work on it.
"This process they (the students) created will directly help Passion Works create more flowers, and it will help individuals with disabilities to create that Passion Flower," Kremer said.
Three of the five OU students on the team, Scott Kostohyrz, Nick Reed and Marissa Singley, traveled to Washington D.C. early last week to attend the design contest. For their first place "Best Overall Design" win, the team won $30,000. $10,000 went to be split evenly among the students, $10,000 went to OU's engineering department, $5,000 went to Kremer, and $5,000 went to Passion Works.
Kremer said the capstone course, centered on the theme "Designing to Make a Difference," provides a host of students with opportunities to plan their own designs for the contest. Savage said he had worked with students in the "Flower Power" group since fall semester last year.
"The team's just been great," he said. "They came in to check the molds, studied the materials and how we did things, and they put a lot of time and effort into it. The design is very user-friendly and very safe."
Singley said during the trip, which lasted about a week, that students attended a variety of conferences and seminars, as well as met with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
While the machine the Flower Power team created should be very useful to Passion Works, Singley acknowledged that it doesn't have much commercial potential. Most designs for the AbilityOne challenge don't - Kremer said the purpose of many of the inventions is limited to the unique needs of the individuals with disabilities who will use them.
Kostohryz said he hopes the metal-cleaning machine will help Passion Works expand its distribution of Passion Flowers.
"It puts people to work and it's art that's sold to the community," Kostohryz said. "Just from walking around Athens and going to school at OU, you just see Passion Flowers everywhere."
The OU team of students stuck around after the end of the design challenge last week to further explore Washington D.C., and came home on Saturday.
Kremer said OU's Russ College of Engineering and Technology is looking forward to working with Passion Works again next year for the AbilityOne Design Challenge. Savage said automation of the metal-cutting process for the Passion Flowers could be the next challenge an OU team will look to solve.
Passion Works Studio is a local non-profit art program, which looks to create artistic employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.