- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

COATESVILLE, Ind. (AP) - He had once been just like them.

For the first time in their college careers, these students at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology were focused on class work aimed at improving someone’s life, his life - not just a grade.

An A would be nice, of course. But if they could get their biomedical engineering design projects to work, they might help the man in the wheelchair wearing a Rose-Hulman shirt to achieve big goals:

To someday, maybe, walk and talk again.

The stakes rose higher than anything they had done before in computer programs, in classrooms with rows of desks, in multiple-choice tests.

Never before had their schoolwork Skyped with them, invited them over and made them dinner.

Before his car accident in 2008, Rose-Hulman football player Drew Christy would have been one of the students poring over ideas. Instead, wracked by a traumatic brain injury, he has become their inspiration.

This year, four senior capstone projects at the college sought to invent assisted technology devices to boost Drew’s therapy sessions.

Most of them targeted ways to help Drew with his therapeutic horseback riding at Hope Haven Horse Farm in Coatesville, where he works to improve his balance and strengthen his muscles.

But it wasn’t as simple as getting the wires to connect and the electronics to click.

“We thought we knew what we wanted,” 21-year-old senior Kristen Schackmann told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1ox4HjT ).

Her group came up with an idea for an everyday device to remind Drew to keep his head up. His lanky body crumples and slouches in his wheelchair, because of his weakened muscles.

A sensor attached to headphones was supposed to cut off music from his beloved iPod when his head sank too low. To get back to the music, he would have to lift his head.

But the initial design wasn’t portable, so Drew wouldn’t be able to take it around in his wheelchair.

“We had the whole idea wrong,” she said. “We really saw what Drew’s life was like, and how it could have an impact.”

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