Shawnee Mission Northwest High School teacher Rebecca Schultz is a fiercely independent person who doesn’t like to ask others for help.
But all of that changed for her last August when she began using a wheelchair to get around after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The special education teacher soon found herself relying on the help of students at her school as she moved from classroom to classroom each day with all of her teaching supplies.
That is, until five students from Olathe East High School unexpectedly came into her life as part of a project for a national engineering competition.
The group of young men helped create a portable desk and cart that attaches to Schultz’s wheelchair and helps make her daily life much easier.
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For her, it’s a game changer.
“I got my independence back,” Schultz said. “I don’t have to rely on anybody. It may not be a big thing to some people, but it is for someone like me who doesn’t like to ask for help.”
Cameron Wasinger, Isaac Taylor, Holden Hartley, Matt Reichmuth and Tanner Williams are all students in Olathe East’s 21st Century Design Academy and members of the team Best Overall Solutions. They are one of five high school teams nationwide, in addition to three college teams to make it to the finals of the SourceAmerica Design Challenge which takes place April 7 in Washington, D.C.
The SourceAmerica Design Challenge is a national engineering competition where teams come up with innovative technology that will help people with disabilities in the workplace. The competition began six months ago with 160 high school and college teams from 26 states.
Five teams from Olathe East entered the competition, but only one team will advance to the finals. Members of Best Overall Solution said they were surprised to learn their team would move on in the competition.
“There were so many really good projects,” Hartley said. “But in the end her cart didn’t just help her with her job, it helped her be more independent.”
The team found Schultz after contacting physical therapists in the area. After they heard her dilemma, that it often took up to 12 different students to transport her books and supplies to six different classrooms each day, they quickly went to work.
The team visited Schultz at her school so they could see how she would have to use the cart day-to-day to get around the building. What started as just a way to transport items quickly evolved into something more.
“She was just looking for something to cart supplies around, but we combined it with a desk to make it more efficient,” Wasinger said. “Now, she can also work at the desk.”
Schultz said she was amazed by the attention to detail that the five teenagers brought to this project.
“They noticed right away that I needed a desk,” Schultz said. “They thought of everything.”
And the design didn’t stop there.
“We gave her added features, like a battery bank on the cart for the laptop,” Taylor said. “Her laptop would die during the day. And we added a cup holder and a horn for the hallway.”
Sheri Gillett is one of the team’s teachers at Olathe East. She said she’s been impressed by the team and how they have approached the project. She said it’s clear that their hard work has paid off not only for the team but for Schultz as well.
“They have creative spirits and minds and that is why the design is so fantastic,” Sheri Gillett said. “They approached it as a life solution and not just an engineering project.”