For Waggies by Maggie and Friends, a small nonprofit agency in Wilmington, Delaware, hired consultants aren’t usually in the budget. However, the help they needed wasn’t far and came at no cost. Eager engineering students from Concord High School participating in SourceAmerica’s Design Challenge, a national engineering competition benefiting people with disabilities, put their science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills to the test. The team transformed the work process for Becky, a Waggies employee with a cognitive disability, through assistive technology. Their solution left a lasting impression on the judges, clinching one of five finalists spots out of 130 competing high school teams from 26 states.
This is Concord High School’s fourth year participating and the third time they’ve made the finals. Last year, they won first place overall in the high school competition. Concord High School engineering teacher and team coach Jordan Estock offers the Design Challenge to his students as an extracurricular activity.
“One of my favorite things to do as a teacher is to watch the whole thing unfold,” Estock said. “The team spent hours of their free time, including weekends and holidays, to assistWaggies by Maggie and Friends. Being driven to help someone is one of the best motivators.”
SourceAmerica’s annual Design Challenge gives students a window into its nonprofit mission: to create employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. Students form teams and assist a business employing people with disabilities with an identified challenge for an employee. In turn, they experience firsthand the business impact of assistive technology.
“Through the dedicated work of students, coaches and business partners, the SourceAmerica Design Challenge has a tremendous impact on communities,” says Charissa Garcia, SourceAmerica engineer and Design Challenge program manager. “The assistive technology that’s created paves the way for greater employment success for people with disabilities, while the project helps students become better engineers. Our hope at SourceAmerica is that as students go through their careers and they encounter a person with a disability, they’ll be more open to giving them an opportunity.”
Last fall at the start of the competition, Concord students met with Waggies by Maggie and Friends president, Mary Ann Nolan, to learn about the business and observe the employees baking and packaging dog treats. The Concord team noticed that Becky encountered difficulty weighing the products using a standard scale. By working closely with her, the students designed an interactive scale called The Weigh Master that significantly improved Becky’s accuracy. She was so well acclimated to the device she was able to teach other employees how to use it.
According to Nolan, Becky uses The Weigh Master daily and is more productive, which has been a major benefit of participating in the Design Challenge.
“What I liked most about The Weigh Master is that it’s simple and all of our employees can use it,” Nolan said. “Our distributor saw the device and liked it so much, they want one.”
The Concord team will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in SourceAmerica’s Design Challenge finals event April 7. The event will be held in conjunction with the college Design Challenge finals. All teams will also meet with members of Congress to share their Design Challenge journey and discuss the importance of providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“What I like most about this competition is that the solutions students come up with will be used in an actual business,” Estock said. “I can’t create an authentic situation like this in the classroom. The students have to set up business meetings, interact with adults and peers with disabilities, and seek feedback. I can’t dream up a project in school that has the same impact as SourceAmerica’s Design Challenge.”