Students at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering Win national Awards for Devices Helping Disabled

DURHAM, N.C.–- Three student teams at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering have won national awards for devices created in a biomedical engineering course called Devices for People with Disabilities.

Twins Shin Yeu Ong and Shin Rong Ong, who are from Singapore, and the team of Diana Hsu, of Raleigh, and Elizabeth Strautin Schwartz, of Mt. Olive, N.C., tied for first place in the NISH Workplace Technology Scholarship competition. NISH, formerly the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, is a national nonprofit agency that provides technical assistance to community rehabilitation programs. Each team will receive a $2,000 scholarship.

The Ongs, who are seniors, developed several envelope-stuffer devices for workers with cerebral palsy. Hsu and Strautin, who both graduated last May, developed a supportive head-neck brace that attaches to the wheelchair of a man with quadriplegia, improving his comfort and ability to interact with others.

Irene Tseng, of Lawrenceville, N.J., and Derek Juang, of Poquoson, Va., were selected winners of the student design contest sponsored by RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America). Their project was a shoulder-steered tricycle for a boy with TAR syndrome, which results in very short arm length. Tseng and Juang also graduated last May.

“We are very proud of these students,” said bioengineering professor Larry Bohs, who started the Devices for People with Disabilities course at Duke in 1996 with funding support from the National Science Foundation. To date, 15 student teams have won national awards for their technologies.

The course, taken by seniors, gives students a chance to shepherd design ideas from paper to practical application, and work face to face with the people who need the technology. In addition to creating a new device, students are required to present their work at a conference, and write a technical paper.

The technologies students develop are given to their clients free of charge at the end of the class. Bohs has developed working relationships with hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and various businesses in North Carolina to help identify new opportunities for students in the class.

“Often we’re contacted by individuals or family members asking for help,” Bohs said. “We always try to accommodate those requests. I’ve seen this class change students’ career plans. It’s a very rewarding experience to make a difference in someone’s life.”

For more information about Duke’s Devices for People with Disabilities course, visit the Web site at: The course is sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation.