Professor’s STEAM Studio Project Unveils First-Ever Prosthetic Arm

Monday, December 18, 2017
Hudson Borton and family celebrate his new prosthetic arm

This Wednesday, STEAM Studio was buzzing a little more than normal.

It’s not unusual to find young students whizzing from station to station around the Westport office of architectural firm Gould Evans, the headquarters for STEAM Studio, working on projects ranging from fashion design to engineering.

But this week, the students from the studio were joined by community members, nonprofit organizations and others to unveil a completely new kind of project for the studio.

Since the beginning of the semester, a team led in part by Mandi Sonnenberg, Ed.D., associate professor of education at Rockhurst University and co-founder of STEAM Studio, have been building a custom-made 3D-printed prosthetic appendage for Hudson Borton, a 4-year-old from Kansas City who was born with one arm as a result of a congenital disease, symbrachydactyly.  

Alongside Sonnenberg were students from Higher M-Pact, a local nonprofit organization that assists at-risk youth, and Rockhurst High School. Together, they engineered what was the smallest-ever version built of an prosthetic design from Enabling the Future, according to Sonnenberg, which they built using a 3D printer, a construction made possible with funding from Variety KC the Children's Charity.

“They put in a lot of hours,” Sonnenberg said of the students who were the core of the project. “Between the coding and the printing it was about 50 hours, and we’ll just keep improving it.”

Krishon Harris, a Rockhurst High School student who worked on the code that the 3D printer to scale the design down to the size needed, said the process was challenging, but it was worth it to see it unveiled for the first time.

“We had to figure out a lot of things along the way, so it’s nice to see that work really help people,” he said.

STEAM Studio’s leaders from the Rockhurst University education program said guiding younger students through projects is of course great practice for their future forays in the classroom. For Abby Fossey, a senior secondary education major, playing some part in guiding student groups working on these projects is satisfying.  

“One of the driving forces is that you do get to help people,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to give back to the community. STEAM Studio is all about design thinking, and helping people is the real-life application of that.”

Kyle Bennett, a senior engineering major who assists with Variety KC’s GoBabyGo! childhood mobility vehicle project that another STEAM Studio student group is working on, said learning how to take that problem-solving approach from concept to construction is also a great lesson.

“They get to see what their homework did,” he said.

Sonnenberg said she hopes Borton's prosthetic paves the way to similar projects in the future, and says that the team at STEAM Studio will continue to fine-tune the designs.