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UCSI trade show envisions improving the lives of area veterans

Envisioning new products to make life easier or more enjoyable for military veterans was the goal of the Utica Center for Science and Industry student trade show held recently.

Patterned after an industrial trade show, teams of UCSI high school seniors who attend the center’s engineering technology or multimedia technology programs formed mock companies to create assistive devices and develop targeted marketing strategies for the products. 

Partnerships between engineers and advertisers were based on students selecting which project to “pitch” and which ad campaign was most effective. 

To gather authentic information about possible needs, the students first spoke with active military personnel and members of local VFW organizations as well as their own parents, grandparents or other family members who served in the armed forces. 

UCSI engineering students demonstrated their product’s features, while multimedia student partners used their best marketing skills to sway perspective “clients” – veterans and business people in attendance. The visitors were in turn asked to provide feedback about the products and rate their top three product choices.

Two U.S. Army veterans, Bill Reed – who served in Vietnam and Nicola Sancricca – a WWII veteran of service in the Pacific theater, were impressed by the students’ ingenuity and creativity.

Mr. Reed, a retired attorney whose son Spencer attends UCSI and Eisenhower High School, thought a student-designed pillbox that reminds the user when to take the medicine had real marketing possibilities. He also commented on the overall merits of the UCSI program and how his son is learning.
“It’s not just book work,” he said. “It’s beyond visual learning and really prepares kids and gets them thinking about how science and mathematics are used in engineering careers.”

Mr. Sancricca said that while all the teams did well, he had several favorites. “It shows they are really thinking,” he said. 

Top vote-getters among attendees included an inexpensive kit to modify a standard wheelchair into a motorized one, a cane with a built-in flashlight and magnetic tip for retrieving dropped objects and also a device called a “K-9 Cannon.” 

The latter is basically an air compressor attached to a length of PVC pipe that can launch tennis balls, enabling a person in a wheelchair or without use of their arms to play fetch with their dog.

Student Beth Edberg, who also attends Stevenson High School, described herself as “head of finance” for marketing the K-9 Cannon said she “learned a lot” trying to balance a limited budget while still producing results. 

Beth, who will study biomedical engineering at University of Michigan-Dearborn, added that while the engineering companies had three weeks to design, test and build their projects, the advertising firms such as hers took only one week to prepare. A scenario much like the real world, she concluded. 

Stevenson and UCSI student Josh Rzeppa also commented on the need to keep down manufacturing costs. His firm produced “The Independence Kit” (TIK for short) that can modify a standard wheelchair to become motorized, powered by a 12-volt battery. 

“Our product would cost $250 versus more than $2,000 to buy a motorized wheelchair,” said the Michigan Technological University-bound senior. And, he added, “It would allow a veteran who lost an arm to interface with a video game, computer or TV.” 

UCSI lead teacher Jill Rilley said the trade show project is always a highlight of the semester. This time, she said, the assignment was more extensive. “It more closely replicated the process of determining a need, developing a product from concept to marketplace to address that need and then informing likely customers that it exists.”

“UCSI is advanced, authentic learning,” she added. “It’s validated by our alumni at universities around the state who come back to tell us they’re well ahead of their first year classmates. They tell us that programs like Solid Works and animation software they learned in high school have yet to be introduced in their college classes.”

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