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Engineering Student Designs Stander for Disabled Children

Aug 11, 2014   |   by Rebecca Goldfine   |   Bowdoin

When Scott Mitchell began his junior year away at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth last fall, one of his first assignments was to design and implement a low-cost solution to a social problem. Mitchell is a five-year, dual-degree student at Bowdoin and Dartmouth, pursuing both a liberal arts and an engineering degree.

Mitchell knew from his experience as a volunteer with Medical Ministry International, a global charity that provides free healthcare, that clinics in developing countries often struggle to obtain equipment common in the United States. From age 15, Mitchell has regularly volunteered in Central and South America with the charity. Last summer he interned in Arequipa, Peru, working as an interpreter and an assistant to medical staff.

A physical therapist in Arequipa told Mitchell that young cerebral palsy patients who cannot stand or walk should be using standing frames. The frames, which prop users upright, help children develop stronger bones and muscles, and they improve circulatory and respiratory systems. Standers also enable children to engage in more family activities and be more social. The trouble is that standers are prohibitively expensive, with price tags in the thousands of dollars, and the clinic could not afford them.

To address the clinic’s need, Mitchell worked with a team of three other engineering students to design a stander that not only worked, but was also adjustable, comfortable and most importantly, inexpensive. Using wood and hardware commonly found in stores around the world, the team invented and built a stander in seven weeks that cost just $50 to make. The stander can accommodate children up to 44 inches, approximately the height of a seven year old.

Founding a Nonprofit

This summer, Mitchell is working with a different team of engineering students (the original designers are pursuing other projects, he said) to launch a 501(c)3 that can manufacture and distribute the standers to clinics — for free — around the world. Stand With Me is now a registered nonprofit in Maine, where Mitchell grew up, and Mitchell holds a provisional patent that protects his intellectual property while he files for a permanent patent.

Mitchell received a Thomas Andrew McKinley ’06 Entrepreneur Grant Fund for up to $5,000 from Bowdoin’s Funded Internship Program to help him start Stand With Me. He is also working a day job at Adimab, an antibody engineering company in Lebanon, N.H. [founded by Dartmouth engineering professor Tillman Gerngross].

Demand for the product has already begun. “We’re taking orders from nonprofit organizations that are requesting the standers,” Mitchell said. He is trying to raise $10,000 to grow Stand With Me and to produce the first 100 to 300 standers, and is seeking lumber yards willing to donate wood to bring the manufacturing cost down to $20 per stander. The nonprofit is also hoping to partner with corporate sponsors that could help streamline production and distribution.

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