Project Examples

Big Button Switch Construction

Course: 25.108 - Introduction to Engineering II (Electrical Engineering)
Semester: Spring 2006
Instructor: Jay Weitzen, Alan Rux, and Senait Haileselassie
Partners: Kennedy Day School, Boston; Hogan Center, Mass Department of Mental Retardation; VA Hospital, Bedford; Nashua Center, Nashua, NH; Shore Educational Collaborative, Chelsea; Coastal Education Collaborative; Life Links, Lowell; Helping Hands, Boston; New England Education Consortium; Seven Hills, Groton; Boston Home; Wang Middle School Special Education Program, Lowell

Brief Description:

Students from the Introduction to Electrical Engineering II class designed Big Button Switch devices that enabled clients to easily activate electronic devices with the touch of a hand or finger. These were also integrated into other student project designs.

Full Description:

Partner organizations expressed specific interest for electronic buttons that may be adapted to a range of uses to meet client needs. Large round shaped button or flat plate shaped plastic devices provide easy activation through client’s touch of hand or finger, rather than more difficult to activate but typical switch devices. Examples of adaptive switch or “touch activated switch” device uses discussed and developed included: toy activation for physically or mentally impaired children, communication boards for adults and children, initiating wheelchair movements, and VCR controls for educational or entertainment purposes. Some partners say that, “UMass Lowell is where the impossible becomes possible.”

Partner organizations contributed to development of the service-learning initiative in a number of ways. Partner organizations provided engaging on-campus presentations for freshman courses, describing client context and needs. Partner organizations also provided helpful communication and feedback between student and clients. For example, the Shore Educational Collaborative has developed a Service-Learning Project Checklist as a tool to guide UML students through the steps of the partner project process, which also demonstrates progress towards institutionalization of this partnership relationship and S-L procedures. Several organizations that received S-L developed devices, provided reports of such projects and their related client/ organization impacts that have been quite useful in documenting achievements and presentation for ABET visits. Brian Young, director from the Nashua Center, presented partnership results and appreciation for the recently developed partnership during an ABET visit.

Ninety-four students in this freshman course constructed approximately 100 client-enabling electronic devices for distribution among disabled clients associated with partner organizations listed above. Devices were delivered to clients at no cost to the clients. These Big button Switch devices are also integrated into other student project designs. In addition, these student-constructed devices are developed through cost effective and innovative use of materials, often at a fraction of the cost of a similar commercialized product.

Learning objectives met by the S-L project were for students to:

  • Learn about impact of such designs on the quality of life for individuals with special needs
  • Learn about electrical theory, technology, and application, as well as cause and effect
  • Gain a thorough understanding of the design process and first-hand experience solving a real-world engineering problem
  • Design and fabricate devices for disabled
  • Increases student commitment to revising and completing projects in ways that work best for clients rather than just a grade or a completed course
  • Realize that engineering is a profession that helps people, benefits society and gain an appreciation of people with disabilities.

Community objectives met by the S-L project:

  • Useful products designed to meet specific and often unmet client needs. Enhances quality of life for many clients, as well as family members.
  • Raises awareness of UML students regarding people with special needs