Caleigh Waskowicz '16 is seeking a provisional patent for an award-winning device she designed and built as a prototype while in the WISE program.
In the photo at left, Caleigh Waskowicz '16 and advisor Ben Hildebrand with the prototype of a device she designed and built for a WISE project; in the photo at right, Caleigh offers an Alumnae Weekend presentation about her design project.
Caleigh Waskowicz '16: Turning a WISE Project into a Patent
Caleigh Waskowicz '16 is in the process of acquiring a provisional patent for an award-winning device she designed and assembled as a prototype while she was a student in Westover's Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) program.
Caleigh is now pursuing biomedical engineering studies in her first year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and she credits WISE as giving her the confidence – and so much more – to pursue that course of study.
"WISE is absolutely amazing," Caleigh said. "I wouldn't have been the student that I am today without that program. Otherwise, I would have put boundaries on myself. WISE truly opened my eyes to what I could do, to just not take 'no' for an answer. To just go for it. That's what the WISE program did for me."
During her senior year, Caleigh learned how much she could accomplish through an Independent Research Project (IRP) she undertook: designing and building the prototype of a machine that would assist patients with limited mobility sit, stand, and move. At the 2016 Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair, her project was recognized in several categories: third place in the physical sciences high school division, second place in the high school division of the Barnes Aerospace Applied Technology Awards, a cash prize and plaque in the UTC Aerospace Systems Awards for Excellence in Engineering, and a cash prize for a high school project in the mechanical engineering category of the University of New Haven High School Awards in Engineering and Science. At the WISE Program's graduation ceremonies in 2016, Caleigh also was presented with the Sally Ingersoll Fox Award, given in memory of Sally Ingersoll Fox '43 to a Senior for dedication to WISE and for an outstanding culminating project.
Caleigh said the idea for her design originated during the winter of her sophomore year. "I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life," she recalled. Her father, a physical therapist, had arranged for Caleigh to join him when he visited one of his private patients who had been debilitated by a series of strokes.
"He didn't have good control over his motor function or communicating," Caleigh explained, and the process of transferring him to and from his wheelchair was "a complicated, convoluted process. He was at risk of falling and injuring himself, and my dad was at risk of being injured trying to catch and support a 200-pound man."
Caleigh remembered thinking, "This isn't fair," and she began to wonder if her WISE experience couldn't help her find ways to design a device that could help her father's patient and others like him have greater mobility under safer conditions. She began studying the mechanics of the process involved for patients facing limited mobility.
Eventually, with her father's help, she arranged to meet with a mechanical engineer over lunch with her father. "The engineer approached it from the technical side and my dad was coming at it with a physical therapist's knowledge of anatomy." As their conversation progressed, they started using napkins and straws to create models of devices. "We must have looked absolutely crazy to the other people in the restaurant," Caleigh said with a laugh. At some point, though, she added, "I had that 'eureka moment' when I said, 'Oh my god, I think I can build this!' It doesn't have to be something completely conceptual. We can actually build something and make it happen."
Caleigh decided that designing and building the device would be her IRP during her senior year. Ben Hildebrand, Assistant Head of School and a WISE and Science teacher, served as her advisor for the project.
She began work on the design over the summer between her junior and senior years. "There were months and months of prep work. I spent a lot of time on Google Sketch," Caleigh said, working on the mechanics of the design that would enable a patient to be lifted and lowered into a sitting position with the machine doing all of the weight-bearing for the patient.
"There are walkers and lifts for patients, but nothing that does both," Caleigh added. The challenge she faced in creating her design, she explained, was "How do I get someone from a moment of sitting to a moment of standing, and then keep them in a position that is locked, and then how to get them back down to a sitting position. I spent days and days observing the process, watching the physical therapist and studying the arc of motion involved."
During her senior year, Caleigh then began work on building the physical prototype of her design. "It is a hodge-podge of materials that are off-the-shelf parts that weren't designed for that purpose," she said.
Caleigh credited Ben with helping her stay focused in creating her design and turning it into a prototype. "I would get really animated in our meetings," she recalled, "and he would remind me, 'You don't need to reinvent the wheel' and to just focus on what hasn't been made yet, to narrow the scope of the project. He was great to bounce ideas off of."
At the WISE graduation ceremony in May 2016, Caleigh gave a presentation about her design process and gave a live demonstration of her prototype. Later that month, she gave a second presentation for alumnae during Reunion Weekend.
Now at WPI, Caleigh is exploring her opportunities in the field of biomedical engineering. "It is such a broad field," she noted. "There are so many concentrations within the major, and concentrations within concentrations." She is excited by the possible courses her future studies – and a future career – might take. "There is a huge need for a marriage between engineering and health care. It's really exciting."