In a building just outside the main Yakama Nation Tribal School, its MESA prosthetics team has turned a classroom into a workshop.
A 3-D printer hides behind a poster board. A clay oven is covered just outside the room. And there are tools everywhere.
Here, one can tell students have been at work on something — in this case, prosthetic arms. The school’s STEM teacher and team supervisor, Bill Razey, takes pride in what they’ve accomplished, calling the four students a “dream team” determined to make something of note.
“I think all kids want to get their hands on projects, don’t you?” he said. “They just don’t want to be sitting down and reading.”
Team members Temina Holt, Isiah Strom, Noah Pastrana and Justin Strom, all sophomores, put their hands-on learning to good use by developing from scratch four prosthetic arms along with mastering lessons in science, technology, engineering and math.
The general simplicity of the products could make them affordable options to those needing prosthetics, the team says.
All their hard work — which started earlier this year and included working until midnight some nights — paid off, as the project met critical acclaim. The team took first place at the regional MESA prosthetics challenge in Heritage University.
And earlier this month, team members placed fourth overall in the state competitions, held at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters.
The Yakama Nation Tribal School team came from the smallest school, Isiah Strom noted, as well as being the only Native American group in the competition.
The centerpiece among their four prosthetics — nicknamed “R2-D2” after the Star Wars character — has a rotating claw made of hardwood; the other three do not. The length of the arm is made out of a mailing tube, with holes cut into it to reduce weight.
An Arduino microcontroller, along with a simple air hydraulics system, program and power the arm to open and close. The hydraulics system is mostly air tubes and two-liter pop bottles, with a bicycle pump providing air. Buttons turn the arm on and off; the buttons are located both on the arm and on a flip-flop that could be operated with a foot.
The arm can function without the microcontroller, though. Holt said she realized the project could be a low-cost option for the poor, whether locally or beyond.
“Prosthetics are needed at this time in the Third World,” Holt said. “Some of the expenses can be eliminated.”
According to Razey and the four students, the total cost of the items was under $80. Most of the materials were on the low end, such as the pop bottles, tubes and flip flops.
“We can take out the Arduino (microcontroller) and the electrical part and we could possibly build it,” Isiah Strom said.
“All you need for this to be powered is one battery pack or maybe even a 9V battery.”
Skills the MESA team members learned and developed while completing this project include woodworking, coding, programming, electrical wiring and soldering.
“This is our second year in the group, and frankly I love it,” Isiah Strom said.
As part of their most recent competition, the team met Microsoft employees working or having worked on such products as their Xbox game lineups and virtual reality technology.
Some of these employees participated in MESA as students, they said.
The entire experience has been worth the effort, Isiah Strom said.
“After many trials and errors, and working on it so many times, you could say it’s been a worthwhile experience,” he said.