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Engineered to Serve Pt. 1

Pavle Popovic and Natalie Bontrager, both juniors and mechanical engineering students, have taken the Engineering Department’s slogan: “use your skills to improve lives,” to heart. 

While other students around the nation spent their summers relaxing at the pool and resting their brains, Popovic and Bontrager had another idea in mind. “I wanted to take the opportunity to learn from scratch what the engineering process is like, better understand the industry, and help people at the same time,” Pavle said. 

Working full-time in Grace’s Engineering Department, Popovic and Bontrager had a series of projects this summer geared towards improving the quality of life for others.

But one project, in particular, was second to none. The two were given the responsibility of designing a series of prosthetic hand attachments for Zoe, a 4-year-old girl from the community born with a limb difference. The students’ list of improvements to make included creating a lacrosse adapter to play catch, making a bike attachment to make riding easier, and designing a gripping thumb to help her mom cook.

Pavle said that designing a part for someone’s everyday function was intimidating at first, “Will my efforts and ideas be good enough?” He wondered. “I want Zoe to have joy in doing some of the same activities that I do. It’s a big responsibility.” 

The students were given the satisfaction of working with Zoe in the design process–testing their products on her and getting to see her reactions to each of the modifications. They both agreed that one of the most heartwarming moments was when Zoe used her new hand to hold a toy ice cream cone. “She looked so genuinely excited,” said Natalie, “working on Zoe’s hand attachments is very rewarding.” 

As Natalie worked on modifications throughout the summer, it made her think about the divine mechanics of a hand designed by the Creator, “Our hands are more perfect than a prosthetic could ever be.” Natalie and Pavle worked relentlessly to make Zoe’s hand more effective, yet God created every hand in existence without batting an eye. It was a good reminder that even the process of design control is a form of worship.

Working on a project like this has shaped Natalie and Pavle’s future plans as well. 

“It’s helped me want to do more things for others, and to pursue it full-time. I would love to work on prosthetics for kids as a full-time career after college,” said Natalie.

And Pavle chimed in, “I just want to improve people’s lives–that is my dream job.” 

To learn more about Grace’s engineering program visit https://www.grace.edu/academics/undergraduate/academic-schools-departments/sc/department-engineering/.

Know someone like Zoe? J.C. Innovations is partnering with individuals in Northern Indiana with limb differences to provide expanded capabilities by leveraging 3D printing, engineering expertise, and understanding. If you know of someone, want to partner with us, or just want to learn more, go to https://jc-innovations.com/helping-hands/ or contact Jody Claypool at J.C. Innovations.

Stay tuned for “Engineered to Serve Pt. 2” to hear from Zoe and her family!

Tagged With: Career Preparation, Engineering, Feature Stories, Grace College, Mechanical Engineering, Students, Technology