Colorado School of Mines students are elevating the quality of life for some of the nation’s greatest heroes.
“The independence they’re helping us gain,” said Velette Britt, 29, an Air Force veteran of Colorado Springs who is paralyzed from the waist down, “is huge.”
Britt is one of five people that Mines students are working with through the nonprofit Quality of Life Plus (QL+). The organization provides students with the opportunity to produce original, customized assistive devices to improve the quality of life for a veteran who has been injured in the line of duty.
“We give them real-world problems. We’re pretty hard on the students to come up with the right solution,” said Jon Monett, the founder of QL+ who is a retired senior executive in the CIA and Air Force veteran. But “they realize it’s for much more than a grade.”
He added that he’s seen many bonds formed between the students and the veterans they work with. “It’s all about results,” Monett said.
The goal is to be able to give the veterans something they can use after working with Mines students, said Joel Bach, associate professor in Mines’ Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of Mines’ Human-Centered Design Studio.
With QL+, the students are working specifically with veterans, but the Human-Centered Design Studio also works with Paralympians, professional and recreational athletes, equipment manufacturers and adaptive sports programs.
New projects are constantly being brought in, Bach said, and the project cater to a variety of disabilities for people of all ages — visually impaired, paralysis and amputees, to name a few..
“The students get the opportunity to work with somebody who’s faced different challenges in life,” Bach said, “and learn what that individual’s abilities are.”
They learn to communicate, empathy and how to apply their skills in a helpful way, Bach added.
Mines has been working with QL+ since July, and is one of the organization’s seven partner universities.
It’s especially unique for Mines’ undergraduate students to get this opportunity because at most of the other universities, the program is only offered at the graduate level, said Rachelle Trujillo, the senior director of communications with the Colorado School of Mines Foundation.
Mines “students are passionate about being able to create a piece of adaptive equipment for veterans who have sacrificed for our country,” Trujillo said.
Britt has been in a wheelchair for two-and-a-half years. She is a competitive hand cyclist and avid skier with a goal to compete in the Warrior Games and National Veterans Wheelchair Games. In the fall semester, Mines students designed a manual wheelchair that allows Britt to traverse curbs and bumps, and this spring, they are working to design comfortable cranks for her hand cycle and attachments to allow her to ride in inclement weather.
“The students have so much drive,” Britt said. “It’s exciting to see how excited they are to help me get through life independently.”
Some other projects the students are working on include a dancing foot prosthesis for a former Dancing with the Stars competitor, rock climbing holds for blind people and sockets for prosthetic legs for a person who has had both legs amputated.
“He wanted something he could just slip on and walk around with,” said Josh Glanzer, one of the four students working on the sockets for the prosthetic legs.
Glanzer is a senior studying mechanical engineering and one of the reasons he chose to go to Mines is because he wanted to work with disabled people, he said, adding he grew up on military bases.
“This is just my way of helping veterans,” Glanzer said.