Students form club to help people

Students form club to help people

In the 2017-2018 academic year, a new sponsor for mechanical engineering senior design teams arrived at Virginia Tech in the form of QL+, a non-profit dedicated to helping veterans and first responders. Teams tackled problems brought forth by challengers and made a difference in their lives.

Inspired by the initial challenges, Zackory Biggers, a junior in mechanical engineering from Lovettsville, Virginia answered a call to help form a new student organization, Quality of Life Plus Student Chapter at Virginia Tech, to help people in the New River Valley.

“Last year’s senior design team really got the student organization started,” Biggers said. “This is the first year we’ve been in action, with an executive board and working on projects.”

Biggers is the president of the club which has about thirty members representing a number of engineering and non-engineering disciplines. The projects the group takes on are not senior design projects. In fact, there is no academic credit at all associated with the club, and students are doing work on their own time, using money they raise.

“We’ve been working with a rehabilitation center called Neuro-Restorative who have put us in touch with several of our challengers,” Biggers said.

Of the three projects the team is taking on this semester, one involves a 12-year old who was born with only part of his hand, with no fingers. The team meets with Ben and his parents, Joel and Trina to come up with options for what they can do that will help Ben.

“We are looking at a prosthetic attachment that will help him hold a cup and potentially assist him in playing the piano,” Biggers said. “It’s a small thing, but something most people don’t think about – it makes it easier when eating a meal or carrying a drink through the house to have one hand free while carrying your cup, for instance.”

Talking to their challengers has given Biggers a new appreciation for how to look at projects from different perspectives. “One of our challengers is only able to move one arm and it’s difficult for him to zip up his pants without assistance, so we made a device he can throw over his neck that will allow him to zip himself. Another person loved to fish, but had a difficult time reeling, so we made a device that attaches to his wheelchair that assists him in reeling in fish. Many of these things are things you take for granted and being able to restore that ability to someone who has lost it gives you a sense of pride in being able to do that.”

The student team maintains contact with QL+ representatives who support them with guidance when and where needed. The club has also reached out to CalPoly where a very successful club has been operating for several years.

Beyond finding challengers, Biggers’ biggest issue is finding funding. “We’ve really relied on support from family and friends through a crowdfunding site,” he said. “Our treasurer is looking at sponsorship opportunities from companies and we hope that evolves over time.”

Biggers stresses that as new as the group is, it couldn’t exist without extensive communication and coordination between members of the executive board.

“This couldn’t happen with one person,” Biggers said. “It’s taken a community of people to get funding, to find the challengers, and to work with them to make their project a reality. Also, the support of our faculty advisors, (associate professor of practice) Robin Ott (mechanical engineering) and (collegiate assistant professor) Christopher Arena (biomedical engineering and mechanics), have been really helpful.”

The faculty advisors have helped Biggers and his team overcome one of their biggest hurdles – finding space to do the work – but the struggle continues.

“Money hasn’t been a real challenge yet,” Biggers said. “We’ve been very lucky to have the support of the local community, family, and friends. Now we need to put plans in place for the future to get storage space and workspace.”

People can follow the group’s progress on their website.

Written by Rosaire Bushey, Mechanical Engineering