Building for Inclusivity: TOM Makeathon Unveils Inspiring Innovations

The spirit of innovation and compassion took center stage, as Vanderbilt University hosted the annual Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Makeathon, a culmination of collaboration, innovation, and inclusivity. TOM, is a global movement of communities that creates and disseminates affordable solutions to neglected challenges of people living with disabilities. The TOM: Vanderbilt Makeathon is an annual event, held at the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s Center for Innovation, that pairs teams of Makers with Need-Knowers to build solutions for challenges that have long been neglected. The weekend consisted of an initial session with need-knowers on Friday, followed by a full day of prototyping and a visit from Vanderbilt University, Chancellor Diermeier on Saturday, and finally the public showcase of all projects on Sunday.

One of the key driving forces behind this event is the participation of Vanderbilt students, who immerse themselves in the process of ideation, creation, and development to bring an idea into a fully working prototype over the course of a single weekend. Their commitment to using their skills and knowledge for the betterment of society exemplifies the university’s ethos of social responsibility and community engagement. This year over 120 students, and over 150 participants total, including Need Knowers and families gathered together to complete their project prototypes.

“As a freshman, I can confidently say that the TOM Group and the Makeathon has been the best introduction to campus and The Wond’ry I have received, ” said Reed Sullivan, who worked on the project for a young boy with no limbs, named Mathais. “While assisting others, I learned about the significance of collaboration between multiple disciplines, and how innovation truly stems from the creativity and work of a full team. Not only am I grateful for what I learned, but I am also grateful for the impact my team was able to make on my Need-Knower and his family. To be able to make a difference in this person’s life, learn, and have fun along the way truly describes why I love the TOM Group and The Wond’ry.”

The invaluable input provided by the Need-Knowers, who are directly affected by the challenges, are the cornerstone of each project’s success. Their lived experiences, insights, and firsthand knowledge offered crucial guidance, ensuring that the solutions developed were not just inventive but also practical and tailored to the specific needs of the individuals they aimed to assist. Without the guidance and collaboration of the Need-Knowers, these innovations might have missed the mark. This synergy between the technical expertise of the Makers and the personal experiences of the Need-Knowers and their families showcases the indispensable role of empathy and firsthand insights in creating solutions that genuinely make a difference in the lives of those living with disabilities.

“Participating in the TOM Makeathon at Vanderbilt was such a unique and worthwhile experience. The dedication and skill of the engineering students who created a Bluetooth wearable head mouse for me was beyond impressive. This device has revolutionized the way I interact with my computer and other Bluetooth devices, empowering me to advance my career and maintain my independence. The head mouse’s ability to distinguish between left and right clicks has been a game changer and the headband design has alleviated pressure sores from my previous head-mouse. I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity to benefit from such innovation and compassion. It’s not just about the technology, but about the human connection and understanding that made it possible.”


“This is the genius of the TOM: Makeathon process. When a team only focuses on the needs of their client instead of a population of users, they have very fast feed-back cycles and can make decisions faster to converge on solutions that work,” commented Prof. Kevin Galloway, Director of Making at the Wond’ry.  


This year’s projects culminated in a showcase of inventive responses crafted by each team. For a full list of the projects, and the team demonstrations, click here.

Explore Story Topics