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Even before Graduation, Engineers Bring Solutions to Life

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: May 1, 2017

Induction to the Order of the Engineer occurs at graduation when engineering students take the Oath [or Obligation] of an Engineer.* They step away from the classroom and campus into the engineering profession. Often, however, students have already had experiences working as engineers and coming up with solutions to real-life challenges.

Student Engineers Reach Out (SERO) is a one-credit technical elective. It’s also a prime example of a service learning program at Notre Dame, one that requires students to use the engineering skills they are learning as part of their undergraduate program to make a difference in the life of local residents with unique needs. SERO projects have included toy modification for developmentally disabled children, designing and building modified MP3 player devices, and arm slings.

Most recently a SERO team, led by Madeline Gent, a senior majoring in computer science and psychology, brightened the life of four-year-old Eli Aquila by modifying a children’s car. Eli has Angleman syndrome; it has limited his physical control of his hands and legs as well as his language and processing abilities. His parents and the SERO team wanted to engineer a solution that would help give him the easiest and most enjoyable playing experience possible.

The SERO team —Gent; mechanical engineering students Kevin Dougherty and Michael Soisson (both sophomores); computer science students Quang Do (also a sophomore) and Alli Kwon and Joseph Yoon (both seniors); along with advisor Paul Brenner, associate director of high-performance computing in the Center for Research Computing and research assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering —modified a children’s car, part of his physical therapy, with an acceleration “button” and override switch for the radio (turning it off so it would not distract Eli).

As fun as it seems, the car is ideal for physical therapy, providing opportunities for Eli to exercise his limbs and control of his movements. Small activities such as opening the latch on the car door; pushing the acceleration button, which the team installed on the steering wheel as an option to the gas pedal; using the gear shift to change from forward to backwards, and other tasks. It addition to offering plenty of good exercise, the adapted car gives Eli chance to play like any other child, to just blend in and focus on having fun.

Eli’s family was very grateful, but the team members were also thankful to be able to use their gifts to help.  According to Gent, “Eli had a need, and our group had the resources and ability to fulfill it. As engineers at the University of Notre Dame, we are in a very privileged position. It's our responsibility to make sure we don't waste that privilege, and instead use it to help those who need it.”  

In fact, Gent hopes to do just that once she finishes her dual degree later this year. She will be looking for a job that will allow her to apply her computer science and psychology skills to those who are in need, just like SERO does.

I am an Engineer.

In my profession, I take deep pride. To it, I owe solemn obligations.

As an Engineer, I pledge to practice integrity and fair dealing, tolerance and respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and the dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making the best use of Earth’s precious wealth.

As an Engineer, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises. When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good. In the performance of duty and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.