Advanced Engineering students spent the term designing items to make the lives of residents at the Hebrew SeniorLife Center in Boston easier. Throughout the fall, they visited the Center routinely to meet, connect, and collaborate with the residents who live there.
In their final design reviews, all three groups shared the challenges they faced and the many iterations and ideas they came up with. They talked about the realities of designing for others in the real world, and how sometimes what you personally think is best is not what a person actually needs or wants.
“We realized it wasn’t about us,” said Kayla Vinh ’22 who worked with Nick Patterson ’22 to design a moveable side-table for a resident’s iPhone.
“In hindsight, we know exactly what we should’ve done and how we should’ve approached the project,” Nick added. “But at first, we were building from nothing. Finding a path was challenging.”
The two said initially they had a vision and excitement around a big idea, but after talking with their resident, it became very clear that it was not at all what the resident needed or wanted.
“We had a lot of over-engineered ideas and then we had a lot of oversimplified ideas,” Vinh said. “We had to find a middle ground between something that’s impressive and an engineering project and something that someone would actually be able to use in their everyday lives.”
Vinh and Patterson said it was very powerful to talk to the resident and show them what they made and hear their feedback. And while they had ups and downs, they’re both very proud of the final product and excited to share it with the resident.
“I feel like we definitely got there in the end,” Patterson said.
The residents and the staff at the Hebrew SeniorLife Center wholeheartedly agree.
“Their projects are amazing and so well-honed over the course of the last couple of weeks to effectively meet the needs of the residents,” said Isaac Longobardi, Program Coordinator, Volunteer Youth & Community Engagement. “In addition, the students are wonderful at modulating the way they describe their projects to different audiences. The way they spoke to one of the engineering staff here is different than the way they spoke to the residents they were working with.”
But it went beyond just creating a product; the students and the residents formed a real bond, connection, and partnership that was mutually beneficial on both a professional and a personal level.
“The students really got so comfortable with their resident matches, building such a wonderful rapport and at moments even a profound intimacy,” Longobardi said. “Watching them affix their products into the residents’ lived environments, I was impressed by their gentleness, their respectfulness, but also their relaxedness.”
More about all the projects from the class:
Nick Patterson ’22 and Kayla Vinh ’22 designed a lever for a resident who was frustrated with their inability to reach their phone on their nightstand from their bed. The lever makes the phone easily accessible for the resident, giving them a new sense of independence.
Chris Fletcher ’22, Dan O’Connor ’22, and Oscar Coes ’22 designed a custom cup holder for a resident’s wheelchair. This resident knew exactly what they needed and wanted from their team, and expected a high-quality and durable product.
Note from Longobardi: “After the students left on Friday, one of the life enhancement staff stopped by my office to share that she ran into one of the residents who was gushing about his new water bottle holder. She said he actually got choked up not just about the product, but about the time he had gotten to share with the students.”
Max Denbow ’22 and John Flynn Lydon ’22 created a custom “Guide to the Internet” for their resident—a tech-savvy individual who wanted a better experience using the content on their phone. They created a chart filled with QR codes that, when scanned, would bring the resident straight to a podcast, a video, a movie, a website, and more.
Click here to read about the background of the class.