By Sherry DiBari

When Tyler Cason agreed to mentor a group of Ocean Lakes High School students for the Beaver Works CRE[AT]E Assistive Technology Challenge, he didn’t know it would lead to a paper presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“It was certainly a surprise,” said Cason, an Old Dominion University student pursuing degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering.

The challenge encourages high school teams to design and prototype adaptive technology for individuals with disabilities.

It all started when Cason, under the guidance of Orlando Ayala, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, wrote and received a Virginia Space Grant Consortium grant for a three-week high school workshop held at the Batten College.

Twelve Hampton Roads students were selected for the Projects for Engineering Student Outreach (PESO) workshop. The students learned about different engineering disciplines and participated in hands-on engineering-based activities.

After the workshop, one of the PESO participants, Nathan He, contacted Cason and asked if he would consider coaching his group for the CRE[AT]E challenge.

The students: Nathan He, Rockwell Li and Ralitsa Hovanessian, focused their project on bottle-opening assistance for individuals with limited hand mobility.

They were inspired by He’s grandmother, Si Yangyang, who had a stroke a few years ago that affected her left arm and made it difficult for her to open bottles. She served as co-designer on the project.

The team designed and 3D printed three V-shaped prototypes, addressing size adaptation and minimal force required for bottle opening.

The students used the M-Lab facilities for printing some of the prototypes.

Cason helped the students narrow down their ideas and gave feedback on material choices.

For their project, the team received a certificate of completion.

This past June, they submitted a paper based on the project to the IEEE MIT Undergraduate Research Technology Conference.

They were invited to present the paper in person at the conference in October. Cason, He, Li and Hovanessian traveled to MIT for the event.

“It was a great trip,” said Cason. “I'd never attended a student-focused conference before, so it was definitely a new experience.”

Cason felt the mentoring experience was positive as well. “The students did a great job,” said Cason. “I’m very proud of them for their hard work and innovation.”