UMass Lowell’s ATDF is a very unique design event (perhaps the only one of its kind in the country) that provides high school students with the opportunity to tackle real-world engineering design problems aimed at helping people with disabilities or special needs.
Working with a teacher-adviser, each team of 4 – 6 students must identify an actual “client” who has a need that can be solved by designing or adapting some assistive device.
ATDF provides a rich, authentic learning experience for students, one which allows them to really learn and experience the engineering design process, apply their academic skills in a real-world context, and allows them to develop important workplace skills not usually taught in the classroom. Each design team has to brainstorm and analyze alternative design solutions, and justify their chosen design; they must work within a budget, analyze the cost of various design alternatives, and in the end, make a presentation outlining their design work and final solution.
Student teams showcase their design problems and present working prototypes of their solutions at our Design Fair held each May; and many prototypes built by students are actually presented to clients. ATDF engages students in real service learning, which not only benefits members of their local communities, but also helps students distinguish themselves among their peers when applying to college.
Project Goals & Outcomes
These are the major goals that we have for our Assistive Technology Design Fair:
- To give students an intimate understanding of the design process and first-hand experience solving a real-world engineering problem.
- To help students realize that engineering is a profession that helps people and benefits society.
- To give students a much greater appreciation of people with disabilities.
- To further nurture students’ interest in science and engineering with the hope of encouraging more students to pursue scientific and technical careers.
- To encourage more teachers to implement engineering design projects as part of the courses they teach or as after school clubs.