GOSHEN — When Goshen High School paraprofessional Cara Duell saw her colleagues trying to fix a student's walker with bungee cords, she had to speak up.
“I said, 'Oh, no, no, no — we have an engineering class here,'” Duell said.
She walked over to J.J. Johnson's Introduction to Engineering Design class and asked for help.
Two weeks later, seniors Evan Smith and Nick Truex had designed a part on the school's 3D printer that fixed freshman Ivonne Lopez's problem with her gait trainer — a device she uses almost every day to walk.
Lopez's backpack was pushing the seat of the gait trainer into her legs when she tried to walk, throwing her off balance.
The boys designed a clip that holds a bar between the seat and the frame of the gait trainer, keeping the seat from moving even under the weight of the backpack.
“It's wonderful that they came up with something like this to help me out,” Lopez said, adding that she is now able to walk and keep her balance.
Smith and Truex said they designed eight different versions of the part before they found one that worked.
“The first versions weren't strong enough, and the next versions were too strong and not flexible,” Truex explained.
They also experimented with different materials. It was the first project either of them had worked on outside of the regular curriculum — and the first time they had the opportunity to solve a real-life problem using 3D printing.
“It's nice to see that you can actually use it for something, rather than just a little trinket,” Smith said.
Both plan to pursue a career in engineering.
Duell said she's impressed with what Johnson's students are doing in class, and that's why she thought to ask them for help. But while Johnson encourages them to take on projects, she added, the students are definitely finding the answers on their own.
“It's not J.J. (Johnson),” she said. “These kids are on these parts, and they are designing and building it themselves. It's one of the things that makes me proud to be part of this school corporation.”