GRAND FORKS — A specialized chair, developed by a group of University of North Dakota students, will soon be helping challenged kids at the Anne Carlsen Center in Grand Forks.

The chair allows kids between the ages of 8 months and 3 years, who may have some mobility issues, to use a control panel to move themselves around a room with the press of a button or the movement of a joint stick.

The device was delivered to the Anne Carlsen Center, a nonprofit organization providing individuals with development disabilities or delays with services and support, on Monday, May 18.

“This is a nice opportunity to normalize all types of mobility,” Alicia Bullinger, with the Anne Carlsen Center, said. “It’s not about how you get around but that you have that opportunity to do so.”

The project started last fall after the Anne Carlsen Center approached Dominik Steinhauer about having students construct a device to help kids with mobility issues. From there, the project became part of Steinhauer’s senior design class where students, such as Erica Eades, John Merila and Conroy Unruh, got to work.

“If they’re able to use this to help some of these mobility challenged kids, it’s really going to touch their lives,” Steinhauer said.

The control on the device can be switched out depending on the child’s ability to punch more than one button. Additionally, the therapists working at the Anne Carlsen Center would have a control panel to help the child stay safe.

The center’s mission is to provide independence to everyone and this project in particular will open up a whole new world for children who may be a bit behind their peers when it comes to their mobility, Ramona Gunderson said.

Showing kids they have the ability to have independent mobility can be important for other skills as well and can help them learn from a young age that they have the ability to solve their own problems, even if it just means getting across the room, Bullinger said.

Students get the opportunity to work on various projects for nonprofits and private companies as a part of the class and others similar to it. Through Steinhauer’s class, students learn how these types of projects would be carried out in the business world.

“UND has a longstanding tradition of trying to simulate the outside world as much as you can inside a classroom,” he said. “It gives the students a chance to get their feet wet so they can know what to expect when they graduate.”

Eades, a new UND graduate who majored in mechanical engineering, served as project manager for the group. She also was involved in the design work in the fall semester, researching other projects then putting together plans to ensure the device would work for the Anne Carlsen Center’s wants and needs.

“It’s definitely been rewarding to see our research and design work,” she said. “I’m really excited to hand it off to (the) Anne Carlsen (Center) because I know it’ll be special once they put it to use.”

By the spring semester, the group moved into the fabrication part of the process, ordering parts and assembling them. Just as the project was getting ready to enter the home stretch, the pandemic closed campus, Eades said, which meant she ended up taking the parts out of the shop and finishing the assembly in her apartment. She and Merila, who was in charge of the controls for the device, would switch on and off having the project to complete it. Unruh was writing the report and forming a manual to give the Anne Carlsen Center a walkthrough of the project.

“It's nice to know that the project isn't just going to be something that just gets done and sits up on a shelf somewhere,” said Merila, a UND sophomore who recently graduated from high school with his associates degree. “This is something that will have an everyday purpose and really help people out.”

Eades, who has an interest in medical engineering, said sometimes people picture engineers working on trains or sitting at a desk calculating numbers, but engineers often have real life impacts on people’s lives, even if they don’t know it.

“You can actually apply your skills to something that benefits human life, which I think is really special,” she said.