Campers with visual impairments showcase their engineering talents
In a camp closing ceremony on July 24, nine high school students with visual impairments presented their engineering capstone projects to an impressed audience.
Choosing themes from the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges of Engineering, four teams enthusiastically demonstrated that they had learned how to apply the engineering design process to solve problems. The topics were liquid filtration, solar panel efficiency, the use of vibrations to cancel out sounds such as loud music from speakers and a tool to make self-administering eye drops easier.
The capstone projects were the culmination of a weeklong residential engineering camp at NC State. The camp, the Summer Engineering Experience for Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness (VIB), marked the first time the College has offered a summer camp like this one.
The idea for the camp grew from discussions between Leyf Starling, program coordinator for The Engineering Place — the College’s K-20 engineering education and outreach program — and Ed Summers, software engineer and accessibility specialist at SAS. Summers is blind.
“Ed was a champion of the cause,” Starling said. “He sent emails about the camp to his colleagues across the country.”
Soon, a group of experts from North Carolina and different parts of the country wanted to be part of the camp, some serving as instructors, others as speakers and advisers.
On the first day of camp, Starling met a confident and eager group of teenagers, which didn’t surprise her.
“I had very high expectations for the students coming in,” she said. “I’ve worked with a number of students with diverse backgrounds and strengths, and I expected the (VIB campers) to come in with the same level of enthusiasm. They were willing to try new things — everything from living in dorms to having to work in groups with people they had never met.”
In camp, the students participated in hands-on activities related to current engineering research at NC State and the themes of the Grand Challenges. They toured labs and spent time with NC State students and faculty members to learn about some resources and tools to help them better navigate college.
Starling announced a surprise during the closing ceremony. Dr. Shayn Peirce-Cottler, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia who was a guest speaker at the camp and directed the eye drop tool team, was going to help the team file for a provisional patent. The team members are Zoe Groves and Hershel Wathore of North Carolina and Matt Gilbert of Massachusetts. The patent-worthy summer camp project is a first.
Starling is planning another VIB camp next summer, and if funding allows, she would like to hold more than one camp, opening them up to students with multiple disabilities.
She also would like to mainstream many of the students who attended this camp into the other engineering camps next summer.
“People don’t always think of students with disabilities as being capable,” Starling said. “They think of them as being disabled, but really they are very abled. Especially this group. Their only disability is low vision.”
Support the K-20 Summer Camps
Donations can be made online at go.ncsu.edu/engineering-giving or by mail to the address below. Be sure to reference the Engineering Place K-20 Summer Camps.
NC State Engineering Foundation, Inc.
Campus Box 7901
College of Engineering
NC State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7901