Make It Happen Gives Students the Chance to Engineer for Good, and for Credit Hours

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Make It Happen Article

Pilot Project: Freshmen Luke Gelfius, Maddie Muncie, and Adam Czyzewski stand with Make It Happen co-founder, junior Tim Balz, behind the gait trainer therapeutic device that the team provided to a disabled 5-year-old in Moldova.

Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are constantly discovering new solutions and driving technological change in the world. But for students, it is sometimes difficult to see past the coursework to the real-life impact that these disciplines have on individuals.

Now, a new program at Rose-Hulman called Make It Happen is giving students of all majors the chance to put their knowledge to work on humanitarian projects, and get course credit for it, as early as their freshman year.

Freshmen Adam Czyzewski, Luke Gelfius, and Maddie Muncie tackled the program's pilot project during the fall quarter. Their challenge was to develop a therapeutic device for 5-year-old Damiano, a child in Moldova who emerged from a routine surgery with multiple disabilities.

One of the unique aspects of Make It Happen is that unlike typical student design groups, such as a senior design project team, the program specifically encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration. In the case of the Moldova project, the team comprised Czyzewski, a biomedical engineering major; Gelfius, an electrical engineering major; and Muncie, a pre-medicine biochemistry major.

The team sought the expertise of medical professionals in order to come up with the best solution to meet the child's needs. The goal was to enable him to build the strength necessary to stand, and perhaps someday walk, on his own again. They also needed a solution that was adjustable and modular, to allow the device to be used as Damiano grew and gained strength.

A few weeks after the device was delivered to Damiano in December, the group got word that he was progressing even faster than expected. In fact, he no longer needed some of the modular supportive structure that they had included.

"We don't want to limit creativity. We believe that ideas can come from anywhere," Make It Happen co-founder, engineering physics major Stephen Misak told a crowd of students at the initiative's official kick-off. The event included a competition where teams of randomly combined students had the opportunity to brainstorm and present potential humanitarian design projects.

Alumnus and entrepreneur Mike Hatfield, who was on hand for the event, called Make It Happen "a tremendous enhancement to just the straight curriculum."

"We can still geek out on technology…but now let's put it in the context of [how it affects people]," he told the gathering.

For the pilot project team, the challenge provided an unforgettable freshman year, along with real world experience.

"It's an actual problem, and we solved it," Gelfius says.

Muncie adds, "It was super awesome because that's what I want to do with my life is help people. Course credit was just the bonus."

Gelfius has another reason to smile, too. With the project under his belt, he recently secured a summer internship with Allison Transmission.