Project Enhances Learning for Students with Disabilities
By Mark Dwortzan
The students who attend Boston’s William E. Carter School come with major mental and physical disabilities, making learning a challenge. Seeking to enhance the learning environment at the school, the principal, Marianne
Kopaczynski, came up with the idea to install automated announcing systems that would deliver a personalized greeting for each student upon taking a specific action when entering a room. Her rationale: the technology would help the students, who range in age from 12 to 22, to make associations between cause and effect, developing their cognitive skills while making them feel welcome.
Now an ECE senior design team has designed and built three such devices and installed them in the school, to the delight of students and teachers alike. Each student takes a card (an RFID tag), taps it on the device, triggering a greeting from a teacher or parent, such as “Hi [student’s name], welcome to Art.”
In recognition of this achievement, the College of Engineering has named the team as first-place winners of the annual Societal Impact Capstone Award, which honors outstanding senior design projects aimed at improving the quality of life. Team members are Yicheng Pan, Sihang Zhou, Alexis Weaver, Sinan Eren and Jose Bautista.
“What possibly could be more societal than to provide a system to make a student who struggles with severe physical and mental challenges just to smile, make them feel comfortable, and at the same time help them understand cause and effect?” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), who advised the team and runs the ECE Senior Design Program.
To develop the system, the ECE seniors drew on their knowledge and skills in remote sensing, circuit design, application and database development and user interface development. Adhering to all applicable safety standards and taking advantage of resources at the Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), they produced custom handheld and wearable RFID tags for each student; a desktop application and database to enter each student’s identification information; and a rugged, durable, user-friendly interface that can be updated and maintained by the school.
“For our students to acquire a skill, repetition is needed in everything we do,” said Kevin Crowley, an instructor at the Carter School who was a 2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year semifinalist. “The technology is easy to use, helps establish a consistent routine and will benefit our school greatly.”
Two previous ECE senior design teams took on the principal’s challenge but were unsuccessful.
“This team succeeded where prior teams failed, even solving last-minute problems and working around the clock to fix them,” said Pisano. “They visited the school on many occasions and stand ready to provide support if any operational issues arise. We plan to do additional projects for the school next year.”
The 2015 Societal Impact Capstone Award second place winners are “Pressure Profile for Kidney Stone Removal” by Nikolaos Farmakidis, Alexandros Oratis, Syed Shabbar Shirazi, John Subasic and See Wong, who assisted a Massachusetts General Hospital physician in determining the most suitable surgical procedure for medium kidney stone removal.