Wheelchair Computer Desk: Delivered!

 Following on from our last post, we’d like to provide an update: the custom computer desk for Gil Addison at PathPoint was recently delivered, bringing that particular project to a close. This desk raises up and down to any given height using an electrically driven linear actuator. The wheelchair user carries the remote control key fob, allowing complete adjustment from near or far. The desk is intentionally designed to tip the computer forwards to face down towards the user, as many wheelchairs seat the occupant in a reclined position.

You can play with the online CAD model here.

At the time of this writing, we are still waiting for feedback on the end result and photos of the desk in action. But in the meanwhile, enjoy some photos of the students as they put together the final product and examined the results. Thank you, Gil, for helping us execute such a meaningful project!

The final product assembled in the workshop, after some
final modifications. The actuator placement had to be changed
in order to create more torque to lift the table.

After disassembly, Nolan (senior) set to
work applying the protective oil to the
upper table surface

Abby (freshman) oils the lower base piece

After all pieces were oiled, Angel (sophomore) reassembled
the entire structure together with Mr. Meadth

A few more bolts to go–almost there!

The finished product as attached to a typical household
table, keyboard shown

The finished product in the full lowered position

Teleios, Hunter, and Abby (freshmen) get their first
look at the end result on the day of delivery

Joshua and Nolan (seniors) test out the remote control

The whole team from left to right: Hans, Abby, Hunter,
Teleios, Mr. Meadth, Angel, Joshua, and Nolan
(James was also in this group); note an iMac computer
attached as per intended use

Service Project: Mechanical Furniture

Freshmen Hans and Hunter, tools out

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the Providence Engineering Academy follows a particular philosophy that transcends circumstances. While many robotics clubs and engineering programs might teach physics, maker skills, CAD, and more, we believe that these elements—”fascinating as they may be—are only the means to an end. In the latest application form for the coming year, there are six “big ideas” listed; Big Idea Number 1 is that service matters:

As Christians, we have an obligation to turn our skills outward to the world around us; we learn not for our own sakes.

While we may not be allowed to mix cohorts or share equipment, the seventeen dedicated upper school students are committed to loving their community using their math, physics, coding, CAD, robotics, and maker skills.

Early on in the school year, we found two willing partners in this process: one was Mr. Gil Addison of PathPoint, an organization serving at-home and on-site residents, many of whom use a wheelchair each day due to their limited mobility. The other was Mrs. Christa Jones, 4th Grade teacher in the Providence Lower School. Both of these clients had distinct requests for custom-made furniture and it was the perfect opportunity for our students to put their new-found statics knowledge to the test (statics is the study of physically balanced situations where the net force is zero, such as buildings and bridges).

Mrs. Christa Jones, 4th Grade Providence Teacher
Mr. Gil Addison, PathPoint

Mr. Addison wanted a custom-made desk for an iMac computer that could be set to a lower height for a wheelchair occupant, and then back up to a standing desk height for an ambulatory user. Such a desk is hard to find in the current marketplace, and the engineering students saw an opportunity to provide something uniquely useful. The desk would be mechanically driven by a remote control, safe for an individual with limited dexterity, and functional to hold the computer at any height without concern.

By contrast, Mrs. Jones needed a new teaching desk at the front of her room to help meet the new style of a COVID year. This mobile desk would need to be equally useful in a standing or sitting position, for maximum versatility with her in-person and at-home students.

How to meet the needs of these clients in a year when the Engineering Academy is functioning in an independent-learning mode? How could we hold a meaningful design charrette when mixing between cohorts is prohibited? How can seventeen students come up with an agreed-upon detailed design and communicate it with the clients?

Answer: with creativity, technological tools, and a great attitude!

The students began by watching pre-recorded videos from the clients as they described their requests and necessary constraints to Mr. Meadth, the Academy Director. Mr. Meadth offered up some quick sketches and ideas in the videos to help sort through what would and wouldn’t work.

Early notes for Christa Jones’ project
Early notes for Gil Addison’s project

The students then used LEGO and other construction materials to make quick miniature mock-ups of their ideas, along with sketches to help show functionality. The images were sent to the clients to help them think through the possible solutions at hand. Another round of recorded video reviews with the clients, and then the real design work began!

Alan’s rolling cart concept
Kaitlyn’s desk concept with extendable platforms

Together with Mr. Meadth, the students worked together over Zoom and in their grade level cohorts, using the cloud-based CAD tools from Onshape. With each student taking ownership of several parts from the whole, they worked collaboratively to produce something that could be presented back to client as a visualization and to the fabricator as dimensioned drawings. Teleios in 9th Grade can create the top part of the desk, Angel in 10th Grade can make the support struts, and Nolan in 12th Grade can design the platform for the keyboard. All team members can see how the pieces fit together in advance, spotting potential problems before a single cut is made. This kind of ease, speed, and confidence in the design process simply did not exist even five years ago, and we are glad for it!

(The computer desk for Mr. Addison can be viewed live here, and the rolling cabinet for Mrs. Jones here. Both models are interactive.)

Mrs. Jones’ rolling cart CAD model
Mr. Addison’s adjustable computer desk CAD model

So where are we today? After purchasing the plywood, oak, mechanical actuators, caster wheels, and other bits and pieces, fabrication is underway. The clients are now eagerly awaiting the delivery of their prototypes. Gil Addison’s computer desk is nearly complete at the time of this article, and Zach in 11th Grade has put together a beautiful biscuit-joined red oak desk surface for Mrs. Jones’ rolling cabinet.

James assembles the clamping mechanism for Gil’s design
Teleios and Abby show off the parallel linkages
Nolan with the mechanical actuator
The vision nears reality for PathPoint!
Zach’s red oak table surface (3 ft long)

We’ll update this blog site as the projects are completed and delivered. For now, we’re just glad to be able to continue our exciting mission through a pandemic and out the other side. The exhortation in I Peter Chapter 4 seems particularly apt:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Keep on serving with the strength God provides, engineering students! You’re making us all very proud.

Architecture Competition 2020

(The following post, written by Anna Beebe, was intended to be published in March—and then COVID-19 happened! Forgive our tardiness… the Architecture Competition was one of the very last things the Providence Engineering Academy did in person this year and it was highly worthwhile!)

The students get ready for the day’s instructions

On Tuesday, March 10th, fourteen Providence Engineering students—our largest group to date—attended a county-wide High School Design Competition hosted by the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara. Our students joined approximately 30 other students at 8am at Direct Relief’s global headquarters in Santa Barbara while a parallel section of the competition was offered at the same time at a location in the Santa Ynez valley.

This competition has been held annually for the past 30 years, and Providence students have won awards in the competition in both 2018 and 2019.

Teacher Matt Eves prepared our students incredibly well. For the last three months, class time has been devoted to architectural study. Students have been learning how to use architectural drawing boards with t-squares and triangles, as well as how to draw to scale. Both of these skills were utilized in the competition, as students were engaged in designing floor plans, site plans, and elevation drawings.

On site, students were given a design challenge immediately upon entering the room. Historically, the Architectural Foundation has attempted to choose challenges that connect directly to current architectural challenges in Santa Barbara.

This year, the challenge was to design a “tiny house”—a fully-functional home that is typically less than 600 square feet, with some as small as 65 square feet. You may be familiar with the “tiny homes” that back up to the US101 North near the Salinas exit, one of several tiny-house projects in Santa Barbara born of a recent ordinance authorizing their construction in order to make use of unconventional plots of land.

Students were given a site plan that showed streets and a plot layout and were instructed to design a tiny house on it, and draw-to-scale some details including elevation and floor plan. While the students worked, professional architects circled the room acting as mentors and offering design advice.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Tang said of the competition, “There’s something about designing that is special. Although tasked to build a tiny house, there really was no ceiling to what we could do. It was so amazing to be able to design something from scratch with endless possibilities. I had such a fun experience and time flew by, but I think in the end, we all designed something that we were really proud of.”

Dozens of high schools from around Santa Barbara County
were represented at the design competition
Junior Joshua Frankenfield returned to the competition for his third year, having won past awards. He says of his experience, “I must say that the architecture competition is one of the highlights of the school year for me. The way it is set up gives the students leeway to solve the problem however they wish in the time period given, so long as it operates within the restraints. It is a true engineering experience within the realm of architecture.”

We are incredibly proud of the hard work and creativity our Providence students demonstrated, and are so grateful for the opportunity they had to connect with architects in the city. For those who are interested in studying architecture, this experience will be a wonderful spring-board for their professional future! As sophomore James Loewen put it, “It has been a very fun experience regardless of winning or not!”

Homelessness and Architecture

Earlier this year, our Upper School students spent a day of service around Santa Barbara, with a theme of “homelessness”. Students spent time at PATH Santa Barbara, Showers of Blessing, and Food Forward, to name just a few organizations. Our school also has a long history of working with the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and Habitat for Humanity. So when the time came this year to finish with a major architectural design project, the connection was obvious.

After reviewing some typical architectural projects aimed at alleviating the burden of homelessness, such as the Los Angeles Star Apartments, we decided to pay a visit to those working directly with the homeless. A visit to the Rescue Mission was eye-opening; our host Trinity handed out the hard hats and led us around the Yanonali Street property.

Trinity leading the group around the Rescue Mission’s construction zone

The Rescue Mission was in dire need of renovations, having been built in 1987 for the express purpose of housing and training the homeless of Santa Barbara. After over 30 years of unending community service in that location, the Mission sought to bring their facilities up to date, while still maintaining their daily commitment to receive, feed, and shelter anyone coming through the doors. As such, the project is being carried out in phases.

At the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission; from left to right: Joshua,
Peter, Ben, Todd, Alena, Nolan, Ava, Madison, Sam, Pedro, Caleb,
and Mr. Meadth

The students also took the chance to walk down the street and meet with Jon, the CEO of the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Jon showed the group through a typical low-income housing development, describing how successful applicants to the program provide their own “sweat equity” to help meet the cost of a new home. The students were also fascinated by the various technologies used to keep costs down during and after construction: special framing standards, highly insulated rooms, and solar panels.

The team stands with Jon from Habitat for Humanity on their
East Canon Perdido Street location

Back in the classroom, the challenge was issued: design a one-storey building in downtown Santa Barbara for a new Catholic homeless shelter. Constraints were described regarding occupancy, setbacks, and parking. Students were encouraged to consider how the architecture itself might support the intended mission. How can open, plant-filled community spaces promote mental health and serenity? How does a well-designed building give its occupants dignity?

Todd and Ava consider their various design elements, with Todd
on SketchUp and Ava drawing plans by hand

A typical day right now is humming with energy! Ben, Alena, Todd, Caleb, and Josh are hard at work creating CAD models in SketchUp (a free 3D tool used by many architects and product designers). Nolan, Madison, Ava, Peter, and Pedro are drawing scaled floor plans to match the CAD model. Armed with their wits and some architectural rulers, they are carefully tracking the details of corridor widths and parking space sizes. Sam is also building a physical model for his team out of balsa, foamboard, and other various materials. In total, five different designs are in production.

Ben and Nolan working hard to ensure the paper plans match
perfectly with the CAD model; their third teammate Sam (not
pictured) is working on the physical scale model

We’re extra grateful to Trinity from the Rescue Mission, who came by class this week to provide feedback to the student teams, one by one. Her advice was invaluable, as one who already knows firsthand the practical implications of the various design elements.

Pedro explains his floor plan to Trinity during class this week

The Providence Engineering Academy is asking the question: how can we bring our skills and knowledge to bear on a world full of problems and in need of the love of Christ? Through meeting with local homeless people, hearing from the ministries that serve them, and through technical training, we hope to ignite a skillful passion for the world around us.

Reach out to Rod Meadth for questions and comments. Don’t forget to share the word about our incredible summer camp, which also includes architectural themes: Robot City!

Designs Complete: Orphanage in the DRC

The vision of the Providence Engineering Academy is to “inspire and equip students to find creative solutions to the world’s problems through mathematics, science, and engineering, as imitators of a creative God.” In accordance with this, the Academy recently became involved with a true situation that not only stretched the students’ design skills, but showed them how they could bring those skills to bear on a world full of need.
Steph Fellows, formerly of Journeyman International, a humanitarian architecture program connecting university students with worldwide projects, came and visited our high school class back in early December. Steph shared of her experiences in places like Tanzania and the Congo, where she learned first-hand about other cultures and spearheaded various projects for students at Cal Poly.
After outlining the design process and giving several case studies, Steph zoomed in on an actual situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An orphanage serving 40 children had been gutted by fire in late October, and the children were living in various temporary settings. The operators of the orphanage saw this as a chance to build a more suitable facility in a better location, and they reached out to Steph to see if she could help.
The burnt-out orphanage, located in Eastern DRC
Steph gave our students the details of the new design, including budget, square footage, capacity, necessary spaces, and site location on Google Earth. They broke into six teams, and were encouraged to work creatively but realistically within the bounds of their constraints.
After about six weeks of class time, the student teams had produced and polished their final designs, which were presented to the class and sent back to Steph for her evaluation. Her summary comments said it all: “I have goosebumps! They did a phenomenal job!” She told them that she was “impressed by their work as well as the capabilities of young people.” The students in turn were grateful for Steph’s time and effort spent in delivering the project and giving summative feedback.

Gabe and Tys decided to put together a “recycled” design, converting shipping containers into habitable spaces.

Congo Containers
(Gabe Clark, Tys vanZeyl)

Jake, Isabelle, and Sarah Jane decided to go for a more traditional design, with two levels and a wide porch, focusing on creating a welcoming home for the children.

Eglise CBCA Bugabo Orphanage
(Jake West, Isabelle Marchand, Sarah Jane Robertson)
Aaron and Dylan worked on a clustered design, choosing to create smaller bedrooms to give a greater sense of privacy and individualism to the children.
A Home for Secure Comfort
(Aaron Satchwell, Dylan Duncan)
To see all six designs, you can view this poster.
We’re proud of the skills the students are developing, and look forward to seeing how they continue to grow! From here, we are learning to use a different suite of CAD products, with a focus on designing educational aids within our own school. Stay posted, and keep being creative!