Powerful Solutions at RIT's IdeaLab

by Crystal R. Mendoza Paulin

The students, mentors, and coaches that participated in RIT's 2016 Fall IdeaLab. 

The students, mentors, and coaches that participated in RIT's 2016 Fall IdeaLab. 

Twice a year the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) holds a intensive problem solving workshop known as IdeaLab. Students, alumni, professors, and community experts volunteer their time for the weekend to brainstorm and present solutions to unique problems assigned by community organizations. As part of RIT's dedication to effective access technology, the IdeaLabs typically focus on healthcare and the medical industry.

This year the Fall IdeaLab partnered with Al Sigl Community of Agencies. The local non-profit presented eight unique problems for the students to consider. The students and coaches then split into eight teams to spend the rest of the weekend working on one of those eight problems.

Team 7 members from left to right: Brad Dunn (design mentor), Mark Brown (student), Crystal Mendoza Paulin (engineering mentor), Gerald Garavuso (team coach), Jiameng Huang (student), Gopika Nair (student), Peggy Fortune (Al Sigl mentor).

Team 7 members from left to right: Brad Dunn (design mentor), Mark Brown (student), Crystal Mendoza Paulin (engineering mentor), Gerald Garavuso (team coach), Jiameng Huang (student), Gopika Nair (student), Peggy Fortune (Al Sigl mentor).

Brad and I lent our design and engineering expertise to the room at large but spent the majority of our time with Team 7. The team was tasked with creating a physical stabilizing system for individuals that use communication devices. This problem was pitched by Al Sigl's member agency, Rochester Hearing and Speech Center. Several neurological disorders that impair speech also impair fine motor movement so the team needed to build a system that could stabilize a user's hand and fingers to produce easy and reliable typing.

Of course, one weekend is not enough time to completely solve these complex problems. However, the hard work and creativity of the teams often produce viable results. Some teams even continue working on the projects after the weekend is over and turn in completed products to the organizations that need them.

IdeaLab is always an interesting and inspiring weekend. RIT was the first to institute a program of this size and magnitude and now the "IdeaLab method" is being propagated throughout other colleges and universities in the United States. I've participated for years and never fail to volunteer at each session. IdeaLab is free and open to the public and I sincerely encourage all of you to observe a session. There's nothing quite like watching the best and brightest work together to create solutions for people with special needs and abilities. And it's all for the betterment of our society.

For more information on RIT's Fall IdeaLab, visit here.