Science & Technology

USU Helps With Award-Winning STEM Project in St. George

Sunrise Ridge students in St. George, work together to build devices for children with disabilities.

In early February, a St. George classroom-full of middle-school students blended science, engineering and technology with a genuine desire to help real people--and Utah State University professionals were there to help it happen.

“They were having a blast, and so was I,” said Amy Henningsen of the Up to 3 program at USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities.

Henningsen went there to provide her expertise as an occupational therapist, along with Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen, an expert in building and adapting devices for people with disabilities.

“We had moms [of children with disabilities] present their child and their struggles,” said Burke Jorgensen, a therapist with Dixie Regional Pediatric Rehabilitation.

Jorgensen brought in two families he worked with and had them talk about their needs to Angie Frabasilio’s class at Sunrise Ridge Intermediate.

“The kids had to find solutions to help them,” Jorgensen said. “I was amazed at how well they thought through the problems. The families came up with some really good solutions, some I wish I had thought of."

The students’ teacher, Angie Frabasilio, said she planned to have her students work on assistive technology this year. When the class’s proposal to help children with disabilities gain more independence won $25,000 from the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition (they were winners at the state level), that was even better.

That was before the CPD and other professionals came to their class last week. Now, they will put together a video of their activity, then submit it to Samsung for a chance to win at the national level.

During the exercise, the AT Lab’'s Christensen arrived onsite with tri-wall (a thick corrugated cardboard packaging material) and PVC pipe--two favorite materials for assistive technology projects.

“We asked them, ‘What would you do, using this material?’” Christensen said.

Then the brainstorming began.

The students learned to assess the needs of the families they met, then designed and built items like specialized chairs and a device that helped a girl who uses a wheelchair to stand. They also made a walker, iPad holder and specialized toy holder from PVC pipe.

“It was beautiful because they wanted to make the design perfect for the kids," Jorgensen said.

Christensen was the master builder.

“Then the clinical guys were in there saying, ‘This is how the support needs to happen,’” Frabasilio said. “Amy’s got such a natural way with kids, she can figure out what level the kids are at, and she was great at evaluating them. ... It was a great combination. The kids got a huge amount of experience with it.”

Adults also came in to participate--health care professionals, a student in training and several educators. Reporters were there, too.

For a look at the action in the classroom, watch the ABC 4 News segment.

Writer:  JoLynne Lyon, 435.797.7412
Contact:  Matthew Wappett, CPD Director,

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