In early March, twenty-six Scholars students worked in teams to complete the 2017 Humanitarian Engineering Scholars (HES) Design Challenge. The event involved a three-hour Build Day, followed by one week for teams to finish their design and prepare a brief presentation. Shortly afterward, the winners were decided. During the Design Challenge's first year in 2015, the students designed and built homeless shelters, keeping in mind factors such as heat retention, ventilation, portability, moisture resistance, etc. The next event's theme was a STEM project that involved slightly more planning but still a large amount of hands-on building. This year's theme was almost entirely design-oriented; the challenge was to create an expandable shoe that could last a child for years, "growing" to accommodate them as their feet grow. Shoes are a resource many impoverished people have trouble affording both in the US and abroad, especially for young children who outgrow shoes quickly. These people could greatly benefit from owning a more versatile, long-lasting pair of shoes that expands to meet the needs of their feet.
Since the Design Challenge is meant to teach students what humanitarian engineering is like in the real world, time and budget constraints are important factors. In the industry, an idea may seem like a perfect solution but if it is too expensive to actually implement, it will not eliminate the problem. This means that participants must excel at both creative and practical thinking, always keeping feasibility in mind. At the end of the week, teams are judged based on a total of five criteria: design development, structure, materials, budget, and presentation. The judges include faculty from across the College of Engineering, giving participants an opportunity to network during the event.
This year's winning team included Ben Jackson, Riley Niekamp, Matt Schiller, and Cole Zemelka. They created an expandable shoe called the Groe, designed partly like a Chaco shoe (a sandal with adjustable webbing woven into the sole). For sole expansion, they drew inspiration from a Nike Free shoe design. "The tip of the sole would wrap over the toes and could be lowered as time went on to accommodate foot growth. The webbing could be tightened for width and height adjustment," Zemelka describes. The bottom of the shoe would be made from recycled tires, which puts an old material to good use while simultaneously reducing production costs.
Ben Jackson is a pre-mechanical engineering student. He fell in love with the field after working on several exciting projects in high school, including a 3D-printed music manipulative staff for visually impaired students and a portable hydroelectric generator. The Design Challenges are his favorite HES events; he says that the time limit puts on a lot of pressure, but that this can be a good thing. "It definitely leads to some really creative thoughts and allows you to learn a bit more about what each individual HES student has to offer," he explains. Jackson considers himself "the numbers guy" of the team, having researched shoe sizes, foot growth, and what original shoe size would maximize their design's effectiveness. In the future, Jackson hopes to work for a company that takes on similar projects to those of the Design Challenge, projects that use creative thinking to directly impact the lives of people in need. In addition, he would love to travel to Europe.
Riley Niekamp has also made travelling his long-term goal, hoping to see as much of the world as possible while he is still young. He comes from the small Ohio town of St. Mary's and chose to attend OSU after watching many of his relatives graduate from the university as engineers. Outside of his busy mechanical engineering class schedule, Niekamp enjoys sports— particularly soccer, swimming, and tennis, all of which he played year-round throughout high school. Niekamp participated in the Design Challenge to get hands-on experience with a humanitarian engineering project. He explains, "My task for the group was to determine what materials would be incorporated into the shoe in order for the shoe to be flexible with our design, but also be able to take the wear and tear without costing a lot."
Matt Schiller may be from the state up north, but he was ultimately drawn to OSU based on how many new people he knew he could meet here and the variety of activities he could pursue. In fact, as lover of all things outdoors, he has already gotten to lead a trip for the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC), where he works as a climbing instructor; they went rock climbing in Kentucky for a weekend. Schiller's goals for the future include leading more OAC trips, travelling to all fifty states, and living out west after graduation. He is considering being an aerospace engineer but is also interested in electrical engineering. So far, his favorite HES events have been a trip to NYC for park clean-up and—of course—the Design Challenge. He recalls that the most difficult part was making sure their design addressed each important issue rather than some or even most of them. "My group brainstormed for the first few days and started to combine our ideas," he recalls. "I was in charge of sketching out all of our ideas and the process we followed. I also designed and created the final PowerPoint presentation and birthed the idea of making a tangible 3D printed shoe." Schiller will be ending off an exciting first year of college by travelling to Guatemala over the summer with HES, where he will teach STEM classes and present research to young students.
Cole Zemelka is from Middlefield, Ohio and is majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering. The Scholars program was part of what drew him to the university; he knew HES would give him the chance to work on meaningful, philanthropic projects beginning in his first few months on campus. He enjoys learning about the "seemingly endless" applications for materials, and hopes to put that knowledge to use to improve people's lives in his future career path. The Design Challenge allowed him to do precisely that. Suddenly, the things he had been learning in classes were being used to develop a solution for an important (and often overlooked) real-world issue. "It was also very rewarding to see our idea go from something in SolidWorks to something tangible that we could hold in our hands," he says. Besides the Design Challenge, his favorite HES event was the Scavenger Hunt, which allowed him to get to know not only other HES students but also some of the coolest things about the city of Columbus.
These four students are proof of what a combination of brilliant minds can accomplish in the span of only a week. Of course, that doesn't mean it was easy. Jackson describes a comical moment of frustration that occurred after they printed out a 3D model of their design. "We were all ready to add on the makeshift straps to complete the shoe when we realized we had designed the right shoe with the left shoe strap slots. The positions for all of the slots were messed up and it took us forever to realize why things did not look right," he recalls. They had also forgotten the front strap slot. The team's creative thinking came in use once again; they were able to solve this mix-up in time for presenting to the judges, and, of course, leave the competition with first place and a design that could become life-changing for many people.