Students collaborate at Wright-Patt, give back to community

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Because of two Bradford students and their collaboration with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the Wright Brothers Institute here, an 8th grader at Bradford Middle School will be able to participate in the school band.


Kirsten Harmon and Rachel Lavey used their creativity and knowledge of 3-D modeling at the Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center this summer to modify a music stand so it would hold a trumpet for Alyssa Burton, a middle school student with limited range of motion due to physical impairment she’s had since birth.


Harmon explained that someone in their Bradford community had emailed her Bradford High School pre-engineering teacher, Dr. Angela Wendel, to ask if there was a way students could help Alyssa.


“Every year, I invite students, parents, local businesses to identify challenges or problems for our pre-engineering students,” said Wendel. “So during second semester, when my students were doing independent projects, I asked if anyone wanted to tackle this project. Kirsten and Rachel stepped up immediately.”


“I was in the band last year,” said Lavey, “and Alyssa played bells although she really didn’t want to. She wanted to play the trumpet. But she can’t move around well enough to hold the instrument because her arms don’t raise high enough. Kirsten and I thought it would be a cool project to help with.”


So the two students began this project in the last semester of their senior year and carried it into the summer as part of a collaboration with the Gaming Research Integration for Learning Laboratory® (GRILL®), where they could collaborate with subject matter experts in 711 HPW's Airman Systems Directorate and WBI.


Robert Lee, an engineer with WBI’s IDEA Laboratory at Tec^Edge was one of these experts.


He explained that in design, there are always many ways to create. There is not just one right way.


“In design, experts used to say ‘build fast, fail fast,’ but really it’s ‘build fast, learn fast.’ This way you learn very quickly if the design is going to work or not. Then you just build something different and you learn something in the process,” explained Lee.


During a brainstorming session, Lee, Wendel and the two students discussed variables that could both help and hinder the progress of the modified trumpet stand. They discussed things such as Alyssa’s range of motion, the height and angle of the stand and 3-D printed unit, vibrations of the instrument in use, and additional ways to attach the strings to the trumpet keys.


In an article in Scientific American, design expert John Maeda discussed the strength in collaborations that engage critical thinking in both STEM and Arts fields.


“There is real value to be gained from collaborations that bridge the best talents we have in both the quantitative and qualitative domains,” said Maeda.


Maeda also discussed the creative process artists and designers go through as they work—“rethinking or redesigning systems at their base.”


“Artists and designers are the ones who help bring humanity front and center, make us care, and create answers that resonate with our values,” he said.


Wendel explained that what was so gratifying was that not only did Harmon and Lavey go through the engineering design process, but with their solution, they helped a member of the Bradford community who otherwise would not have the opportunity to play the trumpet in her school band.


“I just like doing something for someone in our school,” said Harmon. “We can see her use it and see how it impacts her. That’s pretty awesome.”


The students explained that their new challenge is to build the mounting design on a drum harness, enabling Alyssa to participate in the marching band as well as the concert band.


“Both Rachel and Kirsten possess an innate sense of service and want to help others,” said Wendel echoing the Air Force Core Value of service before self.


The two students start college this fall. Harmon will be attending Wright State University and studying business. Lavey will head to Edison State Community College to study elementary education.


“It's amazing to watch what students can do when we step out of the way and just provide guidance and encouragement,” Wendel said. “The level of engagement, problem-solving and passion is outstanding.”