The Voice: Winter 2002
Senior engineering project bears fruit several years later
A photo arrived in the mail with a check to Dordt College last month. The short note attached read, I want to thank Dordt professors and engineering students for designing the children's wheelchair. God is good and so are you. Carmencita Lucia, the young girl photographed in the wheelchair, was the first child to receive a wheelchair manufactured by Hope Haven of Rock Valley, Iowa. The chair is based on a design initially done two years ago by four Dordt senior engineering students.
The idea for the project evolved slowly, says Mark Hubers ('99). He and Trevor Mentink, Paul
Taatjes, and Micah Vardeman made up the team who did the original design of the chair for their
senior design project.
We had no idea what we were going to do for our senior design project, Hubers, says.
Someone suggested looking to Hope Haven, a local organization that serves people with
disabilities, so Hubers met with Mark Richard from Hope Haven to talk about possible projects.
Looking around the warehouse, Richard and Hubers passed a pile of donated wheelchair parts
and steel. Five years earlier the organization had begun a program to repair and supply
wheelchairs to disabled people around the world. Although Hope Haven had since received a
great deal of steel to repair wheelchairs, it hadn't used much of it since the steel doesn't usually
wear out. Richard and Hubers also found plenty of other parts that could be used to build
We really needed children's wheel-chairs, says Richard. He notes that a higher percentage of
children in developing countries have disabilities.
When people and organizations request wheelchairs, they typically ask for up to forty percent to
be children's chairs, Richard says. Hope Have often had trouble supplying
The four Dordt students began designing a wheelchair out of the donated parts. According to
Hubers, the original chair was made out of all donated parts except for a few fasteners and a bit
of plastic. That prototype, built by the team of students, cost about seventeen dollars to build
after using donated material.
In addition to a concern for economy, the students had to design something that would be easy to
ship and assemble. Shipping chairs unassembled costs much less because they can be packed in
smaller spaces. The students made the seat and back as well as the wheels removable, but easy to
The team also made some adjustable parts so that the chair could grow with the children. The
footrest and the seats could be resized with a few spare parts, some simple tools, and the help of
Hope Haven workers who deliver the chairs.
We needed an inexpensive, sturdy chair that would be easy to manufacture from donated parts with donated labor, and that would also be easy to ship and assemble, says Hubers.
Although it took a year to get the first one made, the chairs_with some minor design
changes_are now being manufactured by Hope Haven volunteers in the small Iowa town of
Ireton. Carmencita's chair was the first one shipped, but eighty more were made with the donated
materials the students found in the warehouse. Since then, a local donor has supplied more parts
to keep the manufacturing process going. Richard says they recently sent about forty chairs to a
children's hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, and thirteen to Uzbekistan. Since 1994 they have sent
more than 22,000 wheelchairs of all sizes to more than seventy countries. Today they are better
able to supply the necessary numbers of children's chairs with the adult chairs.
The students benefited from the experience, too. In addition to the satisfaction of helping supply
wheelchairs to children who need them, the project taught Hubers to think outside the box, as
he says. We were given the materials and conditions with which to work, and we had to find a
solution. That experience stays with them, even though they have spread around the worldsince
then. Hubers currently works for an information technology consulting company in Seattle,
Mentink for an engineering firm in Sioux Center, Taatjes for the United States Navy in
Washington, and Vardeman for Sauer Danfoss in Denmark.
But, Carmencita Lucia and her grandmother, with whom she lives since her mother died, and
other children around the world feel the benefits even more.