I was one of the first students to take part in Duke University’s new first-year design course, in which groups of students are paired with clients from around Durham and NC to work on solving a real-world engineering challenge. My group of five tackled  a problem from the Duke Lemur Center: their free-ranging lemurs need to be fed and checked on daily, but it isn’t natural for them to come to the ground to eat. Wild lemurs spend their entire lives in the canopy, and keepers at the lemur center want their lemurs to be able to do the same.

Over the course of a semester, my team and I developed a crank-based system that can be bolted to a tree at any height and, as requested by the client, can be operated with one hand. Parts that come into contact with food detach for sanitization or storage during the winter, and every last edge on the final prototype was approved for lemur saftey. Working on the project also exposed my team and I to important aspects of the engineering design process, including doing extensive research, using decision matrices, and presenting on our work, both orally and in writing.

When the fall semester ended, not a single team in the first-year design course had a prototype that was ready to deliver. I decided to keep working on the project  even after my teammates moved on in order to tie up the few loose ends. Two months into the spring, I held a product review with the client that my professor (who for years taught a similar class at Rice University) commented was one of the best she’d seen in terms of both product readiness and communication clarity. After addressing the minor issues identified in that meeting, I oversaw the installation of my team’s device at the Lemur Center.

I loved the process of creating through iterative design, and I found other ways to keep doing that at Duke, most notably in Duke Robotics Club and in a group called DesignHub. I also love helping others create. Since the installation in the spring of 2018, I have remained involved in the first-year design program as a lab teaching assistant, holding office hours to help students with their prototyping and technical needs as they continue to provide solutions for the Duke community.