GVSU Engineering Students Build Special Swing

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In the foreground, Grand Valley's downtown Grand Rapids engineering school complex

In the foreground, Grand Valley’s downtown Grand Rapids engineering school complex

ALLENDALE — A group of Grand Valley State University engineering students who designed and built a special motorized swing for students with special needs will deliver and set up their project this week.

The swing will be delivered Thursday, Oct. 25, to Ottawa Area Center, 10160 96th Ave. in Allendale.

Officials from OAC, a public school serving the unique educational needs of students with cognitive impairments, approached Grand Valley for help. They were interested in creating a motorized swing that would also allow staff members to stabilize the children when putting them in the swing, or getting them out.

“There was nothing on the market that met our students’ special needs,” Mary Beth Jonkman, occupational therapist for OAC, said. “Since they are such a small part of the population, there is a limited customer base.”

Wendy Reffeor, assistant professor of engineering, presented the challenge to design students in the School of Engineering in summer 2011. They designed a stand to stabilize the existing swing at OAC. Then, during the following summer, five students in her Machine Design course designed a motorized swing. It works without anyone pushing it. This allows students who are unable to move the swing themselves to benefit from the sensation of swinging, and frees staff to spend time assisting other students.

“The engineering students were very excited about working on this project,” said Reffeor. “They have said that the opportunity to design something to help the OAC students and staff was very rewarding and motivated them to do their best work.”

Though most of the students involved in the project are now working in co-op assignments, many will take time off to attend the event, set up the swing and see it in use.

“The sense of motion provided by swinging has a powerful affect on how the brain processes and uses sensory information,” said Brian Pianosi, OAC director. “We are excited about this unique swing developed by Grand Valley students, and we believe it will help our students continue their developmental progress at OAC.”

The School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University provides unique educational opportunities for students interested in engineering concepts and their practical application at both the undergraduate and master’s degree levels. Students are prepared to assume engineering positions in industry, with the potential to advance to leadership positions. All undergraduate programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

The Ottawa Area Center is a service of Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) and serves the unique educational needs of students ages 3-26 who have cognitive impairments. Dedicated teachers, aides, nurses, therapists, consultants, and support staff provide students with creative academic, vocational, and social experiences that develop the child holistically, promoting success in family and community life.

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