Students Present Solutions for an Aging Population in Nexus Maximus Sprint

After a rigorous long weekend of researching, planning and designing, nearly 170 students participating in the Nexus Maximus sprint presented their final innovations to enhance life for an aging population on Sept. 8.

The international collaboration yielded dozens of remarkable innovations from multidisciplinary teams of students from eight majors, every grade level from freshmen to graduate students, as well as students from Aalto University in Finland.

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Students present their innovations for the aging urban population at Nexus Maximus.

“We are all about a collaborative, active, real-world, engaged curriculum that solves problems and really understands what it means to engage in a community, to find a problem and to deliver on a solution,” President Spinelli told the students. “That is going to leverage your careers into something incredibly special.”

Nexus Maximus is Philadelphia University’s largest sprint project to date, encompassing 26 teams of industrial design, occupational therapy, engineering, business, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and physician assistant studies students who each brought their unique perspectives to help solve the problems related to an aging urban population.

“This is a really broad problem that we’re getting a lot of diverse thinking about,” said Mike Eknoian, senior director of research and development for Johnson & Johnson, which sponsored the sprint. He said the multidisciplinary student teams addressed the problem holistically, and “that’s what the value of this is. They’re getting to the core insights.”

During the four-day-long sprint, some teams tried to encourage greater social interaction among the elderly population through simple technology, while others created tools to prolong a senior’s independence.

“The number of caregivers are decreasing as the number of elderly are increasing,” said Matthew Selnick, a freshman industrial design student. His team’s solution, “Forget-Me-Not,” would aid those experiencing the early stages of memory loss: a household monitor would display daily reminders to seniors and alert primary caregivers when the tasks are not completed within a certain time.

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Students present their final projects to faculty, staff, students and industry partners in the Gallagher Athletic Center.

Another team created wristbands that would monitor physical activity and promote active lifestyles among seniors. Other student innovations included modified bathtubs for easy wheelchair access, an automated pill dispenser and modular multi-generational housing options.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Vili Auvinen, a fourth-year Aalto University biomedical engineering student, of Nexus Maximus. “We had a lot of ideas. Everybody contributed to the design.”

Will Cardwell, Aalto University’s Ventures Programs staff member, praised the international partnership that resulted in Nexus Maximus. “It’s a rare opportunity to bring together so many intelligent people to think about important problems,” he said. “We plan to do it again next year.”

The transdisciplinary nature of the design challenge resulted in a breadth of fresh ideas.

Sarah Koren, a third-year physician assistant studies student, said the sprint project was a new opportunity for her to use her skills in a collaboration with students from other academic disciplines. “I worked in a nursing home for a year, so that helped me know what was needed to increase the independence of the elderly.”

“Our students are willing to move out of their disciplines and do everything necessary to make a good idea come through,” said Tod Corlett, director of PhilaU’s M.S. in Industrial Design program. “I saw industrial design students creating apps. I saw non-architecture students being architects.”

PhilaU’s pioneering academic model, Nexus Learning, allows even freshmen to become involved in industry-sponsored projects. “We treat people like professionals from day one,” said Mike Leonard, academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering.

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D.R. Widder, vice president for innovation, presents the Nexus Maximus Sword.

After the team presentations Monday in the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center, several projects were selected as winners.

The award for most innovative solution went to the student team that re-imagined a SEPTA bus stop, an urban resource likely to be see more use as baby boomers stop driving. To honor their accomplishment, the team members’ names will be inscribed on the Nexus Maximus Sword, a symbol of the ultimate Nexus Learning innovation project.

The award for most executable went to the creators of “Life Lens,” a digital picture frame that would help keep seniors connected to family members through photo sharing capabilities.

And the people’s choice award went to the team that produced “Smart Sink,” an adjustable sink designed for use in nursing homes.

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