Unique Transdisciplinary Project Helps Child with Special Needs

Industrial design, physical therapy, occupational therapy and engineering students and faculty from both campuses worked together to modify an off-the-shelf car for Logan Sharples.

Industrial design, physical therapy, occupational therapy and engineering students and faculty from both campuses worked together to modify an off-the-shelf car for Logan Sharples.

“Thank you very much!” shouted a smiling 4-year-old Logan Sharples as he just finished cruising around East Falls Campus in his new Lighting McQueen ride-on car.

His bursting joy came as the result of a unique transdisciplinary project at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University). Eight industrial design, physical therapy, occupational therapy and engineering students from both campuses worked together to modify an off-the-shelf car for Logan, who has special needs.

“You don’t have a car without everyone on this team,” said Kim Mollo, OTD, OTR/L, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Center City Campus and a 2006 Jefferson alumna.

Despite being vaccinated, Logan contracted meningitis, lost his hearing and suffered a stroke at age 1. As a result, he has dealt with neuromotor and developmental deficits on his right side for most of his life. He now has Cochlear implants to hear, and with physical and occupational therapy, he can walk short distances with a walker or home health aide. However, up until this sunny June day, he never could race around with his 6-year-old sister Ava or his friends.

Four-year-old Logan enthusiastically cruised around East Falls Campus.

Four-year-old Logan enthusiastically cruised around East Falls Campus.

“It’s amazing,” said Jefferson alumna Kristin Sharples ’05, PhD, as she fought back tears watching her son drive around virtually unaided. “It’s definitely an opportunity that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Logan’s dad, Don Sharples, senior associate director of admissions at the Jefferson College of Health Professions, also beamed with pride as his son rode in circles in front of the Kanbar Campus Center.

“It brought talent together from both campuses to help,” he said. “We’re so happy people can learn from this.”

Stephanie Muth, PT, PhD, assistant professor in the doctor of physical therapy program, launched the GoBabyGo project at Jefferson after hearing about the unique car-build program at the University of Delaware. Along with Mollo in the occupational therapy department, Jonathan Spindel, PhD, director of the engineering programs, and Eric Schneider, assistant professor of industrial design, served as faculty advisors and provided their expertise. The Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce funded the project.

“This build provides the students with an exceptional opportunity to see what great things can be achieved through collaboration, while providing a service to a very special member of the Jefferson family,” Muth said.

The day started in Hayward Hall with the industrial design and engineering students making initial tweaks to the bright red car based on Logan’s needs. Then, after watching his first run, the occupational and physical therapy students made further recommendations, which the industrial design and engineering students implemented. For example, they modified the cushion, raised the seat height, added a pelvic strap, moved the pedal from the right to left side and incorporated a “kill switch.”

The students jumped right into the daylong user-centric build, asking the right questions, acting swiftly and improvising when needed, Schneider said. “The project really resonated with them.”

Industrial design senior Alexander Tholl helped Logan and his sister, Ava, apply decals to the car.

Industrial design senior Alexander Tholl helped Logan and his sister, Ava, apply decals to the car in Hayward Hall.

East Falls industrial design student Adam Hecht ’19 called it “incredible” to see how quickly they went from Logan barely able to drive to not wanting to get out as he suddenly gained so much control.

“By working as a team, we could address the project from multiple angles,” he said. “While the OT and PT students figured out how to best position Logan in the car for the most control, the ID and engineering students dove into understanding the construction of the car and how we could best modify it. It was great to see that as the day progressed ID students were brainstorming ideas on where trunk support would be most valuable and OT students were cutting holes in the bottom of the car.”

Having the opportunity to help Logan gain more independence and mobility truly touched the heart of Center City physical therapy student Macy Guisto ’20, she said, noting she benefited by observing occupational therapy students assess his posture and provide insight into the safety aspect of the car’s design.

Center City occupational therapy student Molly Sullivan ’19 said this collaboration allowed her to act as a student and a teacher. The industrial design and engineering students eagerly learned about body mechanics and occupational performance, and they explained the mechanics and science behind the car’s design and engineering.

“This helped us to gain a deeper understanding and respect for this work,” she said. “This type of cutting-edge collaboration is exactly why I chose Jefferson.”

Logan’s parents shared the same excitement for the novel project and loved the fact they could bring home the new ride-on car for him to use.

“This is such a thrill,” Don said. “Because he has been sick for so long, he hasn’t had the opportunity to be a kid. It gives him freedom and independence in a safe way.”

Logan, too, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s perfect,” he said, grinning widely.

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