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DSHS students ‘lend a hand’ by building prosthetic devices

Through the use of 3D printing technology, a handful of Dripping Springs High students are quite literally lending a hand to those in their community who might need help.

The group, consisting of freshmen Gabrielle Avena, Natalie Chavez, Melissa Richardson, Sierra Stevens and Riordan Tiller, worked with Dripping Springs High educator Jad Jadeja last spring to craft and build prosthetic limbs for Central Texas residents.

Building the limbs was done through international nonprofit e-NABLE, which reaches all over the world to create 3D-printable, open-source prosthetics for those in need. Individuals from across the globe can help improve designs for hands or arms for those who were born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster. In the case for Dripping Springs High students, the use of “kits” provide a model of a mechanical hand in order to craft the prosthetic. This process also involves applying custom measurements – through a process called “scaling,” so that the device will correctly fit the individual who will benefit from it.

Jadeja said when he first presented the idea as an engineering opportunity to students last spring, he didn’t get an immediate response.

“When I turned the question around and explained that this project would directly help others, this prompted their interest,” he explained. “Bringing in that human element grabbed their attention and appealed to their sense of service.”

Once they got the ball rolling on the project, students first had to complete a test run building a model called the “Raptor” hand. Once that process was successfully completed, the team received badges that indicated they are qualified to size, print, and assemble a hand.

In 2019, the students crafted a hand for Mike Larson, a Cedar Park resident, who found the Tiger team through the e-NABLE organization.

The engineering team took the man’s exact measurements to scale the model, then the team went to work on printing and assembling the pieces, which was an intricate and time-consuming process.  The team expects to finish the device in the next few months and will present it to the recipient, at which time adjustments will be made if needed.

While they learned how to build the prosthetic, team members also worked on ways to fundraise to purchase material needed for the limb.

In 2018, the students prepared a Student Leadership Grant through the Dripping Springs Education Foundation, which helped cover the cost of some materials for assembly kits. This year, the group applied for a second grant to cover 3D printer recycling for excess pieces.

On April 6, the students met Larson, who visited and tried out the hand. The students measured the fit and made various adjustments to it..

Having high school students make it happen was the last thing I expected. I know these students are very busy and this project is beyond their other activities,” Larson said in a statement. “The fact they decided to take this on is impressive. I am grateful for their time, effort, and perseverance.”

 The personal motivation of the “Lend a Hand” members varies. Some have an interest in engineering and technology, while others want to learn how to use a 3D printer. Some enjoyed the social aspect of working together. All team members were drawn to the community service element of the activity and were thrilled to contribute to a larger cause.

“Originally I wanted to be a programmer and that was how I got involved,” Stevens said. “But once I started working on this I realized my interests were kind of shifting into the medical field … now I want to be a surgeon. I also really like volunteering in this way; it’s a more active form of community service than other things I have done.”

As they become upperclassmen, all of the students hope to actively recruit younger members to “carry the torch.” Recently they set up displays at eighth-grade orientation activities and hope to identify incoming freshmen who want to be involved.

“For me this is a four-year commitment, said Avena. “As we get better at this and learn more about the process, it should go faster. We would like to pass the torch to younger students so when we graduate this can continue.”

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