TU students build sensory experience for Little Light House
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Thursday, May 03, 2012
5/03/12 at 2:54 AM
A news release promised that engineering students from the University of Tulsa would be unveiling their senior project Wednesday at the Little Light House, a preschool for children with disabilities.
It didn't mention what, exactly, the project would be. So visitors walked into a rehabilitation classroom and looked around, wondering.
Was it the electric wheelchair? Or what appeared to be some kind of projector system on the wall? Or perhaps something to do with the iPad in one instructor's hand?
"There it is," said occupational therapist Anne McCoy, pointing toward the corner. "It's what I would call a 'sensory activity.' "
At first glance, it doesn't seem particularly high-tech.
No moving parts. No control panel. No electronic sensors. Just six hexagon-shaped blocks stacked together like a giant honeycomb.
"It's a maze," explained John Henshaw, TU's department head for mechanical engineering.
And, like any maze, "it has to be experienced from the inside to get the full effect."
Unfortunately, adults won't fit through the pint-size doors. Only kids can crawl up and through the portholes, climbing from pod to pod.
One offers a flood of light. The next feels coarse, like sand. Another one vibrates.
Constantly changing, the sensory experience is meant to stimulate students with autism and other mental challenges.
"The design goal," Henshaw said, "was No. 1, for the kids to have fun. And No. 2, to build upper- and lower-body strength and coordination as they are moving around inside.
"So they're learning and growing while they think they are just playing."
The university students seemed to have a similar experience, learning and growing while they thought they were just having fun.
Six graduating seniors worked on the project - designing, revising and building the "Honey Hallows" to the Light House's exact specifications.
"Everybody wanted to work on this, so it wasn't like our professors had to force us into it," TU engineering student Starr Dalton said.
"We were so enthusiastic about it that it didn't feel like hard work at all. It was easy."
But don't tell Henshaw. He's planning to give the team an A.
Little Light House is raising money to expand its campus
Treating children from birth through age 6, the Little Light House takes students with physical or mental disabilities, including Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism and sensory deprivations such as blindness.
More than 140 children are on a waiting list, but the Light House is raising $16 million to expand its campus at 36th Street and Yale Avenue.
For more information, call 918-664-6746.
Original Print Headline: Sensory experience
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Skyler Dolph and Michael Zerbe (right) explore a classroom installation at the Little Light House. University of Tulsa engineering students built the honeycomb-shaped toy. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Starr Dalton, a mechanical engineering student from the University of Tulsa, discusses a classroom installation at the Little Light House. Dalton and other engineering students built the toy as a class project. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World