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Young engineers learning human side in partnership with Phoebe Ministries

5/19/2014 —

Dementia diseases, particularly Alzheimer's, are reaching epidemic proportions as our population ages. Dr. Marietta Scanlon, a professor of engineering at Penn State Lehigh Valley, experienced it first-hand when her own mother began to show signs of the disease and recently succumbed to it. Dr. Scanlon has long made it a goal to stress the human side of engineering to her students and has seized an opportunity to do that, and honor her mother, through a partnership with Phoebe Ministries.

Since the fall 2013 semester, a group of about 20 students have been working, with Scanlon acting as their Project Manager and Phoebe's Center of Excellence in Dementia Care as their client, to develop ideas and designs that can benefit both patients with dementia and their caregivers. The students will present their concepts to the Phoebe community during a special event to be held at 7 p.m., May 15 in Moyer Hall at the Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center, 1925 Turner Street.

"Because our local campus does not offer a baccalaureate degree in engineering, these students are mostly freshman and sophomores. They are getting real-world experience in engineering design – everything from working with doctors, safety staff and administrators at Phoebe to develop the concepts, to using 3D printers to model their designs - very early in their college careers," said Scanlon. "Most of them are participating in the course as an overload; with some inspired to get involved by their own personal experience with dementia."

They are also, as Dr. Scanlon stresses, learning that there is a very important human element to all the equations, algorithms, and technology involved in becoming an engineer. She notes that the students' perspective has been greatly transformed throughout the course of the project, as evidenced by where their concepts started to where they are now. There are concepts related to activity and exercise for residents, lighting design ideas, and technology that can help caregivers better know their residents on a personal level.

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