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by Dr. Danny Aviv
STEAM Director
Schechter Westchester

As a capstone to their four-year experience in our Engineering and Entrepreneurship (E2) program, our seniors hosted a Tikkun Olam Makeathon, in partnership with TOM Global. The students utilized the skills they have developed in design, engineering, product fabrication, collaboration, and creativity to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities in a very concrete way. Each team of four students was partnered with a local person with disabilities (known in the TOM organization as a “Need-Knower”), and they were charged with seeking to understand a challenge that that person faces in conducting daily life and working together with the Need-Knower in our MakerSpaces to design and fabricate a new product that will be useful in overcoming this challenge. The teams had about twelve hours of total work time to undertake the projects.

The students’ efforts took shape in the following four ways:

  • An elderly woman has limited mobility on one side of her body and is blind in one eye. Because of difficulties with both walking and depth perception, she often has trouble identifying stairs that she is approaching, especially in low light. The team of students devised an LED light system, which can be embedded in her shoe, that produces a distorted light pattern when she approaches a staircase and alerts her to possible danger.
  • A four-year old child with dwarfism was having trouble utilizing the bathroom independently. The team working with him created a sturdy, foldable, portable stool that had features designed specifically to make it suitable for restroom use.
  • A local high school student with cerebral palsy has difficulty carrying his books and papers to class. The team of students working with him designed and built some custom modifications to his wheelchair that enable him to carry and access his materials with ease.
  • One of our own alumni, now in her 20s, has mobility challenges, uses a cane, and therefore has difficulty carrying things. Our current students worked with her to modify her cane (using both high-tech and low-tech approaches) to make everyday tasks like grocery shopping easier for her.

This event was an embodiment of the unique combination that defines Schechter Westchester’s mission: academic innovation, strong moral character, and the enactment of Jewish values to improve the world.