A group of high school students at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, recently won two international awards for inventing and designing a device enabling people in wheelchairs to push a baby stroller.
They came up with the design to help one of their teachers.
“It’s just been really amazing to see my husband, Jeremy, who you guys [the high school students] got to meet virtually, and our son be able to enjoy these things. So, we just want to say thank you guys so much for the amazing innovations that you guys did this year,” Chelsie King, a middle school teacher at Bullis, told the group of young innovators.
King's husband had undergone brain surgery three years earlier, she says, which left him with numerous physical challenges.
Some of them affected his speech and his balance, which meant he would need to use a wheelchair.
“So, then when we found out we were expecting, we kind of immediately jumped into ‘OK, how he is going to do certain things for our baby that normal parents don’t have to think about?’" King said. “And one of the things that we really couldn’t find was a way to enjoy walks with our son.”
They scoured the internet and came up short.
“We really just wanted a way to have walks as a family and for him to be able to do everything that a parent without physical disabilities does,” King said.
King then remembered that Matt Zigler, head of the school’s Innovation and Technology Lab, or BITlab, taught a class that made things for social good.
“It seemed like sort of the perfect challenge for this class. One, it was great to have it as a challenge, but two, it was great that it was somebody in our community that could benefit from it,” Zigler said.
The class was also touched by the challenge. They interviewed the Kings virtually to get a better understanding of their needs.
“I would want the ability to do it by myself,” King’s husband said.
Over the course of several weeks, the teams refined their ideas.
“Ibenka [Espinoza] had a group, and I had a group, and we both made a design. And it turned out that both of our designs, if we combined it together, we’d make like, a superior design,” Jacob Zlotnitsky, a Bullis senior, said.
“It was difficult but it wasn’t impossible,” Espinoza said.
They tested the designs and eventually came up with two wheelchair stroller adaptation devices; they called it the "WheeStroll."
“Mr. King would put in the attachment piece. Next, you’d get the car seat and put it into the attachment piece. And then next you would buckle the baby in,” one of the students explained.
Next, it was time for King, her husband and their new baby boy, Phoenix, to try out the WheeStroll themselves.
“The first time we were able to take it out into our neighborhood just the three of us, it was amazing,” King said. “So, it was a match made in heaven with what we needed and with what Matt does in his classes."
The WheeStroll not only helped change the Kings' lives, but it also changed the students who created it.
“To see the smile on his face and to know that I was able to help give him that connection with his child that he wouldn’t be able to have because of his disabilities,” Benjamin Gordon, a rising senior, said.
“It definitely made me feel for them and it kind of made me mad because something like this should be made already and we shouldn’t be the one — high schoolers — making these designs,” Jewel Walker, a Bullis freshman, said.
The high schoolers' initiative didn't go unnoticed. The project was entered into the 2021 make:able challenge, which is hosted by PrintLab, Autodesk and partners, according to the competition's website. Students were tasked in the 2021 competition with trying to "design and make a product or prototype that improves the day-to-day life of someone who struggles with mobility in their hands."
The judges in the international competition recognized the Bullis students both for the "Best Inspirational Story" and "Best Showcase of Iterative Design" for the 14-18 age group. The school will receive a new 3D scanner and a Filamentive bundle pack, which is used in 3D printing, as prizes for their placement in the challenge.
Meanwhile, the King family is beyond grateful that those high schoolers made the designs that are helping their family enjoy what many take for granted — a simple family stroll.
“To see that they’re thinking outside the box, how passionate they are about the project, and I think it connects that they knew me and my husband, and we just want to say thank you so much to them because without them we wouldn’t be able to have this very simple thing,” King said.