WHS Engineering Team Takes First Place for Design
WETHERSFIELD - Tyron “Mooch” Hill was tired of doing the same thing whenever he came to work at New Britain-based CW Resources, which works with Source America to equip disabled individuals with employment training and opportunities.

       He’s limited as it is--an acquired brain injury has him confined to a wheel chair--and the nature of his work seemed to perpetuate that feeling even more. Since his condition leaves him with little dexterity, he uses a wedge attached to a stick off of a head piece to slide binder clips off a desk and into a box.

       With full mobility in only his neck and right foot, most tasks might have seemed impossible. If that was the case, the Wethersfield High School Jets engineering team that took first place national Ability One Design Challenge in Virginia Feb. 28 for the device that enabled Hill to overcome his limitations, just had to redefine the word.

       “The impossible is not what cannot be done, but what hasn’t been done yet,” said Jets Captain Jason Yanaros in a short film on the Wethersfield Public Schools website.

       The film details the process by which the group of students equipped Hill and others who struggle with dexterity with The Path, a one-person assembly line style device for placing name tag chains in envelopes and sealing them.

       “How does someone, without using two hands, grab an envelope, make sure that it stays straight, insert the chain, and make sure it’s closed when it goes to the stapler?” said Assistant Captain Sam Solberg in the video.

       It sounds like a bad riddle, but when the team broke off into separate groups to chip away at different steps of the process, they knew that there was at least one thing in place to build from.

       “He has very limited dexterity, so most of what he does he does with a head piece,” said Sue Fennelly, a retired Wethersfield High School physics teacher who founded the Jets team.

       Hill starts the Path using his head gear to lift the lid of an envelope dispenser, which sends the item sliding out onto the table. He then pushes the envelope under a foot pedal-lifted dropper and into a wood piece to pop it open. The dropper serves a dual role in this process-first to push down on the flap of the envelope to kick it up, and then as a funnel device for the chains being dropped into a cone at the top of it. Closing the package happens in two steps--first Hill slides the envelope into another piece of wood that partially closes it, and then into the electronic stapler.

       “It’s hard to describe in words what it is, but it is amazing,” Fennelly said. “There were different steps, so it made it more complicated than past years--not that the others weren’t great.”

       The “others” include last year’s first-place winner at the national competition in Washington D.C. The team designed a funnel device for attaching ear plugs to a ball chain, and Fennelly noted that they saw individuals using it when they went back to CW Resources this year.

       “They’re really happy that what they’re doing is immediately helping somebody, and they can see the results,” Fennelly said.

       And Hill can, too.

       “It’s a creative job,” Hill said in the video. “It’s very different and I like doing it.”