It did not take MTSU mechatronics engineering program director Ahad Nasab long to have his students form a special bond with Murfreesboro’s Special Kids organization.
As long as it takes to answer, “When do you need us to come?”
A number of mechatronics students joined Nasab and Department of Engineering Technology assistant lab director John Rozell and six St. Mark’s United Methodist Church volunteers Sept. 12 to modify seven battery-operated cars for children receiving therapy and nursing services at Special Kids, 2208 E. Main St.
Special Kids is a Christian-based therapy and nursing center for children with special needs, including limited mobility.
The toddlers’ and parents’ smiles made all the hours of work on the vehicles — including “Hello Kitty,” “Frozen,” “Spider Man” and a 1970s version of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL sports car edition — worth it.
“It has been a fun experience to come here and help some of the kids, and getting to see their faces,” said Stephanie Magouirk, 25, a sophomore and first-year mechatronics engineering major from Murfreesboro.
Magouirk assisted Will Bell of Bradyville, Tennessee, and his father-in-law, Jeff Estal, with 1-year-old Elijah Bell’s Mercedes-Benz.
Joshua Graham, 22, a senior who will be among the mechatronics engineering students scheduled to graduate next May, also enjoyed the experience and working with Rozell.
“I was excited when I heard about it,” he said. “I like tinkering with stuff. We had small challenges, but nothing really major.”
With a stated goal of $900 to purchase three of the miniature cars, actually about $4,500 in donations came from this summer’s St. Mark’s Vacation Bible School children and special projects, leading to the purchase of 15 cars by the Special Kids staff. The 6-volt battery-operated power wheels are a gift to the families.
A large therapy room at the facility was a buzz of activity as the MTSU and St. Mark’s volunteers used their expertise and technology talents to make the necessary alterations. PVC pipe, 39-cent water noodles, Velcro, red push-button switches, duct tape, saws and screw drivers were among the items utilized to create the modifications.
Nasab coordinates the recently established mechatronic engineering program, which has grown to more than 200 students in two years.
“Our students get excited about doing something real — sometimes we call experiential learning on campus — and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom,” he said. “We began reaching out to Special Kids, an organization that needs technical help, and we are the technology.”
Because Special Kids’ space is limited and only about seven cars can be adapted at one time, Nasab has had to cap MTSU involvement to 20 students.
The veteran MTSU professor uses the phrase “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of a lone genius” as a model for a team.
“That implies teamwork and that’s what you see here,” Nasab added. “It (the effort) just keeps going.”
Mechatronics is a program that combines mechanical, computer and electrical engineering. The program also includes systems integration and project management.
Stephanie Folkmann, Special Kids development director, loves the partnership. Nasab plans to continue the relationship with them.
Other MTSU students volunteering their time and abilities included senior John Sivilaylack, 32, a student-veteran from Murfreesboro; Bryan York, 36, a junior from Smyrna, Tennessee; and freshman Tyler Bailey, 18, a cadet in the ROTC program from Woodbury, Tennessee.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)