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by Karen Kelly

Over the past decade, classes have challenged students to apply their academic experience and creativity to solve open-ended problems. The result: students prepared for real life.

The device to help people with tremor disorders was just one of the many off-the-wall ideas MBA student Tauseef Ansari and his colleagues first devised during their late-night brainstorming sessions. The interdisciplinary team, cobbled together as part of the Design, Manufacturing, and Marketing class at the Lally School of Management and Technology, had decided to search for a market niche in the health-care industry.

They scoured the news, scanned research articles, and volunteered at nursing homes with the goal of sparking a groundbreaking, and, they hoped, lucrative invention.

Team 7-Solutions

Team 7-Solutions: As part of the Design, Manufacturing, and Marketing course, the four-person team came up with the concept for a device that would enable people with tremor disorders to feed themselves. They developed a cuff that will apply pressure and electric impulses to the affected muscles. Eight months later, the team has an invention, a business plan, and an application filed for a provisional patent. Photo by Mark McCarty

“We boiled it down to 10 ideas,” recalls Ansari, who has a degree in electrical engineering. “We had the ‘superglasses,’ eyeglasses that would magnify an object when you flip them forward, as well as the ‘fall down air bag,’ an air bag you could attach to a belt to protect your hip in a fall.”

But as they debated their options, the group kept returning to the concept of a device that would enable people with tremor disorders to feed themselves.

“My father has Parkinson’s, so I’ve seen the need for this device firsthand,” says MBA student and computer scientist Max Morton. “The problem was we had no idea how to do it. But our professors said, ‘Don’t let that discourage you—a solution will evolve with time.’”

Eight months later, the team, now called 7-Solutions, has an invention, a business plan, and an application filed for a provisional patent.

That process of invention—the development of a unique idea from its conception to a working reality—has become an integral part of the Rensselaer education experience.

Over the past decade, classes such as the Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory Experience, Introduction to Engineering Design, Inventor’s Studio, and the introduction of an academic major in Product Design and Innovation have challenged students to apply their academic experience and creativity to real-world problems.

“In these courses, students are faced with open-ended problems that can lead to any number of solutions,” says Gary Gabriele, Rensselaer’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. “You don’t come in and pick up your textbook or computer and start grinding out stuff. It’s really an opportunity for students to express their creativity and develop some of the problem-solving skills that lead to more creative solutions. It’s more like real life.”

In the year-long Design, Manufacturing, and Marketing (DMM) class, “real life” arrives in the form of market testing—taking an idea into the marketplace again and again. Morton and Ansari admit the results of those visits surprised them.

“When we first talked to my dad and other people with this illness, they said they didn’t care what the device looked like,” says Morton.

“So we came up with the ugliest thing,” says Ansari, “It was a utensil attached to an arm that could clamp to the back of your chair. The users said it looked like a torture device.”

“We found out they really wanted something that would be virtually invisible,” adds Morton. “That’s when we started developing a cuff that would apply pressure and electric impulses to the affected muscles.”

Morton says their project benefited from the team’s diversity: his experience as a computer scientist, Ansari’s degree in electrical engineering, Robert Vero’s work in physics, and Andrew Mansson’s experience in the material sciences.

Management professor Chris McDermott says most MBA students in the DMM class come from technical backgrounds, although the projects vary in their levels of complexity. He says the primary mission of the course is to finish with a viable prototype and a fully developed business plan.

“We try to take them beyond just thinking about technical solutions to the actual creation of a successful business,” says McDermott, one of four professors who team teach the course. “They need to consider customer needs and wants, as opposed to just solving a problem without a link to the real marketplace.”

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Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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