Cal State LA team won first place at SourceAmerica Design Challenge

April 18, 2017

A tech-savvy team of students from California State University, Los Angeles took the top prize in the college division of the SourceAmerica Design Challenge held in Washington, D.C.

The SourceAmerica Design Challenge is a unique national engineering competition that challenges students to create assistive technology that will enhance workplace success and employment options for people with disabilities.

“I am truly proud of all my students on the team," said Cal State LA's Technology Professor Paul Liu, a Brea resident. “This was a great opportunity for Cal State LA students to experience a real-life engineering challenge while creating a solution to help improve job proficiency among individuals with disabilities.”

The winning Cal State LA team members who participated in the final competition include students Melissa Alatriste-Sanchez, a mechanical engineering major, and industrial technology majors Sandra Hernandez and Marco Rodriguez.

As part of their experience in Washington, D.C., the Cal State LA trio advocated for employment of people with disabilities and discussed their project while visiting the offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Adam Schiff.

The team’s project was a Lean Master one-piece flow. Students used lean engineering principles and methods to reformat the fabrication process of a two-hole puncher. The project was created for FVO Solutions, a nonprofit social enterprise based in Pasadena that creates employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

“By using lean engineering techniques and reconfiguring flow of work, the production cycle time was reduced by 50 percent and the physical discomfort of employees was eliminated,” said Liu. “The Cal State LA team would like to thank Ms. Gloria Pualani and Mr. Tizoc Loza at Northrop Grumman Corporation for their support and encouragement.”

Cal State LA also won first place in 2015 with FVO, and won second place in 2016 with MVLE in Springfield, VA. MVLE is an internationally accredited agency that provides employment and support services for individuals with disabilities.

Cal State LA team recognized at SourceAmerican Design Challenge awards presentation. During this year’s six-month competition, each team of students paired up with a nonprofit that employs people with disabilities. Students work closely with employees and management to develop prototypes of technology that will improve the work experience for employees with disabilities. The students’ goal was to understand the challenges workers with disabilities face and design breakthrough assistive technology that supports greater employment success.

Liu, who served as the team’s faculty director, said the Cal State LA team was competing with more than 150 high school and college teams from 26 states this year. Only three college finalists and five high school finalists were invited to Washington, D.C. for the final competition.

The 2017 college finalists were Cal State LA, Ohio University, and Lawrence Technological University.

“The team’s project created much better results in all workstations involved, hence it benefitted both employees with disabilities and their employers' bottom line,” said Liu. “It was exciting for our team to be recognized during the awards ceremony.”

SourceAmerica, a national nonprofit agency with a mission to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities, hosts the design challenge annually to bring greater awareness of the need for and the impact of assistive technology in the workplace.

Photos: Top, Professor Paul Liu along with Cal State LA's winning team met with Senator Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C., during the SourceAmerica Design Challenge final competition. Bottom, Cal State LA team was recognized for winning first place during the SourceAmerica Design Challenge awards presentation. (Credit: Cal State LA Department of Technology) 

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Cal State LA is ranked number one in the nation based on the upward mobility of its students. Founded in 1947, Cal State LA is the premier public comprehensive university in the heart of Los Angeles and is dedicated to the mission of engagement, service, and the public good. The University serves more than 27,000 students and more than 247,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the region we serve. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit