UNF engineering students build custom toys for disabled children


Brooks Baptiste

Video by Brooks Baptiste

Some students go to class for the grade, but one professor said his students have a new way of thinking every time they enter the classroom doors.

Juan Aceros, assistant professor in the electrical engineering department, said his students strive to make a difference while working together.

Through UNF’s Adaptive Toy Project, a child is referred to a physical therapist to the program and they’re assigned a group of four students. This group of students is a combination of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and physical therapy majors. For a final grade, the students build toys that give children mobility.

This project began three years ago and became a way for students to give back. Aceros said the in class skills his students gain help them beyond graduation.

Last year, a group built an outdoor car with castors and rugged wheels for a child who didn’t have enough strength to grip the steering wheel. Using sensors, the students added sensors that detects how far away the car moves from the track and that steers the car for the child.

Senior engineering student Juan Mata, said the project was enjoyable and satisfying. Mata learned a lot through his mechanical engineer program, but he said this program allowed him to put learned concepts into a real project.

“It allowed me to work with people from other disciplines. Not only did I get to design and build a toy-car, but I did it for somebody who needed it,” Mata said.

Mata said this program is beneficial in the development of well-rounded engineering students.

“You work on hands on skills, soft skills, and teamwork,” Mata said. “It will also give you a different perspective of what you can do as an engineer.”

The program is only offered during the Fall semester. During the holiday season, the students present families with custom-designed toys for their disabled children. Each toy is made for one child, but the process takes many weeks.

“The students are also getting skills, like communication, how to reason, and they’re seeing the effect they have on the community in individuals’ lives,” Aceros said.

Now, Aceros said other schools are trying to start programs like this because of the known impact it’s making on the community.

“We’re the only class as far as I know in the United States that combines engineering and physical therapy students in the classroom working together hand by hand,” Aceros said.

In all, students leave knowing they’ve made a difference in the lives of many.

As these custom-designed toys are built, “They [students] fall in love with them. They take ownership of the project, they work really hard on it,” Aceros said.



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