AURORA | For some Aurora students, there’s more to summer vacation than snooze buttons and sunshine.
A summer spent pining over a computer screen paid off in a big way for Simon Frimpong last week after the eighth-grade Aurora student and two of his peers from Horizon Community Middle School were invited to Washington, D.C., to show off an award-winning school project at the sixth-annual White House science fair.
“Honestly, it felt like a dream at first,” Frimpong said. “Until I was actually in the building and I shook (President Barack Obama)’s hand and he started talking to me — that’s when it hit me.”
A class of about 40 seventh- and eighth-grade students at Horizon has spent the better part of this school year learning how to use design software and onsite 3-D printers to produce a prosthetic limb for a local disabled veteran. The students learned how to use SolidWorks, a computer-aided design program, to produce a multi-functional lower limb that can be attached to a long board, snowboard or skis for Kyle Kelly, a Marine Corps veteran who lost his left leg.
Frimpong spent the bulk of his summer vacation last year voluntarily learning the intricacies of SolidWorks, which helped him play a primary role in designing Kelly’s new limb. Frimpong said that the goal of the project was to provide Kelly with an appendage that would allow him to be more comfortable and active.
“We wanted to get Kyle to be more active within the community,” Frimpong said. “In Colorado, we have a lot to do with hiking and skiing and skateparks, so we thought that we could help him out by making something he could use to be more active.”
After meeting with Kelly in January, the Horizon students tweaked their design to include a layer of memory foam on Kelly’s prosthesis. Kelly is currently undergoing treatment for an abscess that formed because his former prosthesis was abrading his leg.
Frimpong joined his classmates Grayson Fast and Maya Maxfield-Villard at the White House event last week.
“I think it’s been — it’s hard to put it in words — this project has changed a lot of people,” Maxfield-Villard said. “It’s changed me. People start to wake up and see that there are problems we’re capable of fixing no matter our age, or how small or how tall.”
The idea for the Horizon project started last year after a group of seventh-grade students asked their teacher, Mel Possehl, about creating a prosthesis as a nod to local parents and students at the school with artificial limbs. The idea to give the fruit of their efforts to a local veteran soon became the next logical step due to the school’s proximity to Buckley Air Force Base and the number of veteran parents with students who attend the school in the Cherry Creek School District, according to Possehl.
Possehl said that she’s seen a fundamental change in her students since they began working on the project earlier this school year.
“We have a couple of students who were not really good in math, and now I get emails from teachers saying ‘thank you for helping these kids because they’ve changed their whole idea on school and they’re now coming in at lunch time to do work,’” she said. “I think (this project) has taught them to understand that anything is possible — anything.”
The White House invitation came about a week before the Horizon students’ prosthesis project was tabbed as one of five national finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow challenge, an honor that nets the school about $120,000 in new technology. The Horizon team beat out about 4,100 other teams from around the country in the Samsung challenge, a nationwide contest that offers hundreds of thousands of grant dollars to student groups who devise projects that apply STEM skills to solve real-world dilemmas.
Possehl said that the school has already acquired a new 3-D printer because of the recent Samsung designation and that SolidWorks provided new, professional-level software to the school.
Possehl and her students will travel back to Washington D.C. at the end of the month for an additional award reception sponsored by Samsung.