Cal State L.A. students win national engineering competition

Source America team

Winning project features workplace technology for people with disabilities

A team of Cal State L.A. students has won a prestigious national engineering competition to design workplace technology for people with disabilities.

The team from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology was one of three university squads selected for the finals of the SourceAmerica Design Challenge in Washington, D.C. About 70 universities entered the competition.

Cal State L.A. students took the top prize with “Straight to the Punch,” customized devices that improve the assembly processes for hole punchers. The students altered the devices, such as a jig and spring holder, so that workers with disabilities can more easily use them to assemble hole punchers. Workers who used the specialized devices reported experiencing less pain in their hands, wrists and fingers. Students collaborated with FVO Solutions, a nonprofit agency that employs workers with disabilities

The Cal State L.A. team and the two other finalists—the United States Military Academy at West Point and Ohio University—presented their projects before a panel of judges and the public.

Shi-Hsin "Frank" Wang, Cal State L.A.’s team captain, credited the competition with allowing students to use their engineering skills for the public good.

“Life isn’t about the paycheck,” Wang said. “It’s about engagement and service to others.”

The team also included Filiberto Garcia, Jr., Rodney Paguyo, Erick Vegegas and Mabel Luu. Professor Paul Liu was the faculty coach. Tizoc Loza, of the Northrop Grumman Corp. (NGC), was the team sponsor. Juan Pena, of Adams Rite, an international company that designs, manufactures and markets door and door hardware products, served as the mentor.

Each student received an iPad Mini 3 and a suit and shirt that was used as a team uniform. Students also received a scholarship toward their tuition. All prizes came from the support of Northrop Grumman.

"NGC has always been our best higher education supporter from the industry," Liu said.

He said his students received supportive phone calls and emails encouraging them and thanking them for thier efforts to support workers with disabilities. "My students' value system have been changed and enhanced because of engagement of this segment of community often forgotten," Liu said.

Steven Soroka, president and CEO of SourceAmerica, said students in the competition developed technology that helps transform lives.

"Simply put, the Design Challenge creates tools for successful employment and provides some of our best and brightest college students the opportunity to learn more about the disability community,” Soroka said. “By improving productivity for people with disabilities in the workplace, these students are helping us get one step closer to the day when every person with a disability who wants a job can have a job and be successful at it."

Photo: Members of Cal State L.A.'s winning team, from left to right:  Shih-Hsin "Frank" Wang, Erick Venegas, Professor Paul Liu, Mabel Luu and Rodney Paguyo. Filiberto Garcia, Jr. is not in the photo. (Courtesy of College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology).