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Students develop communication tools for local child who is deaf and blind

April 16, 2019 Tags: Academics , Community Engagement and Outreach , Health Sciences and Education , STEAM

Thomas is an 8 year old boy from Lilly, PA who is mostly blind and deaf. Eager to help, Saint Francis University Education majors began working on a project to support Thomas’s understanding and communication with the world around him. 

Education Professor MaryAnn Shaw, along with Senior Education majors Nicole Lagan and Emily Haupt, connected with Chemistry Professor Dr. Ed Zovinka to partner together on this project which is a part of a community-engaged course.

SFU Students with Thomas

Community-Engaged Courses provide opportunities for students to work together to affect change in the community as well as gain an enriched learning experience through hands-on activities. Students apply what they are learning in class to meet a community need.

The Education students, Nicole and Emily, came up with design ideas for 3D symbols to represent familiar activities and commonly used communication words. They took their ideas to the Chemistry students, who have knowledge of 3D printing, to bring the design ideas to life with sturdy, durable, and long-lasting images for Thomas to use.

3D Spiral imageInorganic Chemistry students first utilize 3D printing to create molecular shapes. In the following semester, students take Introduction to Spectroscopy to learn about how the peaks you see on a spectrum are directly related to the symmetry of the molecules. As a community engagement course this semester, Spectroscopy students are able to apply this knowledge in a real-world scenario creating 3D objects using Poly-lactic acid (polymer) objects to aid Thomas in communicating. 

Another challenge for Thomas is scheduling. Children like routines and understanding the plans for the day, but for Thomas, everything is a surprise. The Education students are in the process of building a velcro board so they can attach objects in an order for Thomas to feel what’s coming next in his day. Or he can reach to the board for an object and communicate his needs to his parents and caregivers. 

Once the 3D objects were printed and ready for Thomas, he was invited to campus to meet with the students and engage with the new objects.

Chemistry major Mitchell Hogue says, “I was not exactly sure what to expect before meeting Thomas. I knew the basic facts but was not sure how he would interact with us. He was just as rambunctious as any other 8 year old I had ever met and was very active. He really impressed me with how highly functioning he was and how he enjoyed our company.”

Thomas working with 3D images“Thomas’s mom was so appreciative of the students’ receptive and inviting attitude,” says Chemistry Lab Instructor, Jane Gleason. “She wants her son to be a part of a community, and that's hard for a child who is blind and deaf and for his family. She loved that he enjoyed the 3D printed items.” 

The community engagement aspect of numerous classes at Saint Francis University benefits not only community members, but also provides a positive impact on the academic outcomes of the students and faculty involved, as well as the university.

Participating Chemistry students are: Kayla Grasso, Michelle Karpinsky, Grace McKernan Kelsey Patterson, Perez Youmbi, Hannah Boyd, Mitchell Hogue, Paul Kasunic, James McCulley, Jessica Schulte, and Kassidy Troxell.

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Education Program

Chemistry Program