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PreTOM 2018: Makers Meet Need-Knowers

December 2, 2018

Before setting foot on Vanderbilt’s campus, Bradley Schwartz already had a goal in mind: bringing an organization to campus that uses student talents to help individuals with disabilities.  On a trip to Israel before his freshman year, Schwartz was introduced to Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), an organization headquartered in Tel Aviv.  He knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of it.  The name Tikkun Olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world,” connects with the organization’s mission: using technology and design thinking to empower people with disabilities through technology and innovation.  Schwartz shared, “Learning about the Makeathons and participating in a mini ideation session was the coolest intersection of getting to create things and help people.  I knew that I wanted to bring TOM to Vanderbilt.”

The organization fit in perfectly with the university’s new quality enhancement plan, Design as an Immersive Vanderbilt Experience, which teaches human-centered design to students so that they may solve complex, real-world problems, develop critical thinking skills, and work in multidisciplinary teams. “Human-centered design is an effective problem solving process, but its value can only be appreciated through implementation.  The TOM Makeathon is a fantastic opportunity for students to apply this framework to learn from others, to create something that has value, and to grow as makers” says Prof. Kevin Galloway, Vanderbilt’s Director of Making, DIVE Faculty Director, and research assistant professor in mechanical engineering.

The organization focuses on human-centered design, in which the makers must develop empathy for those who will be using their innovations.  Individuals with disabilities, or those who can represent their needs, are ‘need-knowers’ who set a desired project or outcome for a small team of makers that can include undergraduate and graduate students, as well as practicing professionals.  The team then participates in a three-day Makeathon in January to complete the challenge posed to them by the need-knowers.  Sixteen projects were selected for this year’s Makeathon, an increase of over 40 percent from last year’s inaugural event, and over 70 makers have volunteered.

Prior to the three-day Makeathon in January, a PreTOM event is hosted for need-knowers to meet their team of makers.  On Sunday, December 2, the teams came together for the first time to begin the design process.  Following the principles of human-centered design, the makers began by extensively interviewing their need-knower and developing a deeper understanding of their challenge.  This was followed by defining the problem that the maker team will seek to address, and finally, teams began the ideation process so that the team is able to start prototyping at the Makeathon.

TOM has also found support outside of the Vanderbilt community.  Members have successfully secured grant funding to help cover the costs of the materials needed to fulfill this year’s Makeathon projects.  The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and Astrazeneca, collectively, have pledged $15,000 supporting the event.

Some of this year’s projects include: adapting pool toys to be more accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities, developing communication apps for people with autism, attaching medical equipment to a wheelchair to allow a child with cerebral palsy increased mobility, and creating a portable and affordable viscosity measuring device for speech-language pathologists to use with patients with dysphagia.

TOM:Vanderbilt looks forward to hosting the second-annual Makeathon from January 18-20.  On January 20 from 3 - 5 p.m. in the Wond’ry, teams will showcase their work and present on how their creations will address their need-knower’s challenge.    Frequently asked questions and ways to get involved in TOM:Vanderbilt can be found on their website.  Keep following for news on how the makers are approaching their projects and working through the design process.