Budding engineers design boards to engage residents at senior living facility

Danielle Grant, Morgan Goodhart, and Lara Vera

Introduction to Engineering Design students and teammates (l to r) Danielle Grant, Morgan Goodhart, and Lara Vera work to incorporate suggested changes to their Bingo board.

Credit: Debra Collins

Freshman engineering student Lara Vera and her teammates Danielle Grant and Morgan Goodhart developed and presented a prototype of their bingo board to Ruby Hassey, a 103-year-old resident of a senior living facility near the Penn State Mont Alto campus Nov. 21.

Students in Jacob Moore’s Introduction to Engineering Design class met with Quincy Village residents to evaluate the prototypes of their bingo boards and busy boards — boards with various apparatus and attachments used to keep seniors’ hands busy and agile.

“For this project you have to think about the client’s needs and think about how to design a solution to a problem,” said Vera, whose interest in engineering comes from her love of science and desire to be creative.

“I’ve always loved science. I also like music and I consider myself to be creative,” she said. “I think engineering will be a good way to combine creativity and science.”

Moore, who is assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said this project requires students to develop user-centered designs. 

“An important lesson in design is to understand your user,” he said. “This is particularly important when the user is very different from yourself — and relating to the residents at Quincy village takes some work on the part of the students.”

The project is being facilitated by Sammy Hanzlik. A human development and family studies student at Penn State Mont Alto, she has played an important role in helping Moore coordinate the project and in serving as the liaison among Moore, the students, residents and staff members at Quincy Village. Hanzlik, who also works at Quincy as a certified nurses assistant, is doing it as part of the volunteerism component for her HDFS 431 (Family Disorganization) course. The class is taught by Cheryl Cheek, associate professor of human development and family studies and involves studying challenges faced by people throughout life. It is part of an ongoing collaboration between the HDFS program and Quincy Village that helps students to understand how people experience and solve problems in real-life settings, according to Cheek.

The aim for the bingo boards was to develop boards for those who have tremors or loss of arm control to keep the users from brushing aside chips as they play.

Students developing busy boards were asked to design boards centered on traditional masculine activities, such as mechanics and woodworking, since Quincy Village already has boards focused around traditionally feminine activities such as sewing. In addition, the designs could have no loose or removable parts.

At first, the students gathered in a group behind a long table aligned with bingo boards on one end and busy boards at the other end. As the residents — Janice, Ruby, Doris, John and Ralph — sampled their boards, the students introduced themselves and described their projects and the goals they want to achieve. It didn’t take long to see how the prototypes could be improved.

Vera, Grant and Goodhart looked on as Hassey sampled their bingo board, which was made of wood with cutout squares and bottle caps for chips.

Hassey, an avid bingo player, had several suggestions to improve the prototype: make the numbers bigger and yellow with a black background, so she can better see them; and smooth the top of the wood, so the edges aren’t rough and the user won’t get splinters. “I like to use the bottle caps upside-down,” she said, so they can more easily be clasped.

The students left with ideas for improvement and will have three weeks to complete their prototypes before a final demonstration and presentation near the end of the fall term.

Goodhart said she found the experience to be helpful. “It was good to get a real-world application for our project and get both good and negative feedback,” she said.

The final products will be donated to the residents at Quincy Village and Hassey looks forward to playing bingo with the improved board. Her only concern is that the other residents will want one too.