Engineering on a budget: Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins Bioengineering 101 Build a Better Crutch

Headshot of Jill SteinbachStudents in Bioengineering 101 were tasked this past Spring with developing a low cost, practical crutch/scooter hybrid. The course is designed to engage the students by employing their burgeoning engineering talents to a real-world problem with direct applications in the field of bioengineering. For Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins, the challenge is in finding a good fit for her students that balances a usable product with a limited budget, the kind of real world constraints that engineers encounter on a regular basis.

“What we’re looking to do is improve their critical thinking capability. Each team has a total of $40 to $50 dollars. The end product can’t be expensive. All of the products are under $40 to $50 dollars,” says Steinbach-Rankins.

Part of Steinbach-Rankins’ project looks at where the technology will be involved. As such, students are encouraged to engineer their product using only material indigenous to the area that it will be employed. The idea is to create something reproducible to whatever community is targeted for assistance.

“We did anti-microbial shoes in developing countries. Foot infections are more common. That year it was really interesting, because I asked the students to pick their country and use materials unique to that country. It prepares them for when they have to work within a budget,” says Steinbach-Rankins.

The more she researched, the more she wanted to embrace a project that may have an impact. With so many opportunities to help people around the global community, she was able to narrow her efforts down to specific ideas, regionally unique.

Steinbach-Rankins says, “In developing countries, there are so many students with these disabilities. There are statistics that say that 20% don’t have those opportunities. It seems like a pretty common problem that inevitably we might all experience in our lifetime. Can we design something that don’t have those things?”

Developing her project idea has proven daunting in the past, but it’s a challenge that Steinbach-Rankins is up for.

“I spend a little time thinking about these projects. If it’s going to be a tangible product, that puts another challenge to the product. I had a couple different product design ideas,” she says.

She continues adding, “One of my colleagues was on crutches, and looking at how their life was impacted. It made me think why aren’t there more options. There are scooters and other options, but not so easily transportable options.”

As an introductory course, Steinbach-Rankins is inspired to help students build keep an eye toward their future, while providing tangible objectives.

She admits, “I like getting students when they’re excited. Introducing students to what Bioengineering is or could be about. Being introduced to professors, to what is research, and what they do every day. Introducing them to industry, to helping them develop their resume.”