When 7-year old Camille Whitt sat in her motorized swing for the first time, she paused for a brief moment in front of dozens gathered to watch at the Baylor BRIC as it began to rock. Camille had long ago physically outgrown her old infant swing, but an undiagnosed neurological disorder has limited her development to the level of a 4- to 6-month-old--the age many children enjoy swings the most.
Off to the side, Baylor engineering students who designed the swing for her watched anxiously to see her reaction. Months of work had culminated in the May presentation of the swing to the Whitt family. They got their answer almost instantaneously. Camille can't speak, so she communicated her approval to the Baylor engineering students the only way she knew how--with a delighted squeal and laughter that wouldn't stop.
The world of engineering isn’t often associated with emotion, laughter and glassy eyes, but it was at Baylor last month. "Camille's Big Girl Swing," a capstone project by Baylor engineering students, isn't your average engineering project, just like Camille is more than just an average client.
Camille's undiagnosed disorder will limit her ability to ever walk or speak, but her family knows there's a lot they can do to help her enjoy life. Her father, Jason Whitt, BA '96, PhD '08, is associate director of Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL). More than three years ago, a conversation with Baylor colleagues in the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) set the wheels in motion to build something special for his daughter. Whitt explained that Camille loved the soothing rocking motion in the safety swings most infants enjoy, but she outgrew them. ECS professors saw an opportunity to help.
Every year, senior and graduate engineering students participate in a capstone project. They come together as a team to use their skills to meet a need. It's more than a final project; it's an opportunity to bless individuals or families with whom they can build a relationship. Through capstone projects, ECS students experience firsthand the idea that their calling can be a mission to serve others. Building a swing for Camille was the perfect fit.
"We were really excited about the idea of designing for Camille. She is a special little girl from a great family, and someone who is outside of the mainstream of who people normally design for. That resonated with our team," Drew Fry, BSME '16, project team leader said. "That's one thing about Baylor engineering. We've been able to explore that idea, working with people in developing countries or people who are marginalized in some way. We can design in a way that accommodates as many people as possible and recognizes the inherent worth of the individual."
Design and construction of the swing provided plenty of challenges. How can it continually rock at the correct speed? What needs to be done to keep her safe while in it? Can it hold the weight of a still-growing girl, and can the motor hold up? Even questions about Camille's favorite color (purple) and movie characters (Disney princesses) were important. It took three teams tackling the swing for three semesters over a three-year period to get it just right. The 10 ECS students on this year's team took the project across the finish line and watched Camille enjoy it for the first time.
For the Whitt family, the gift and the relationships built with the students were both incredibly meaningful.
"It's a beautiful thing. I can't thank the students who worked on this enough. They have truly blessed our family. When we talk about Baylor's mission, this is the way it touches lives and impacts students all across campus," Whitt said. "This swing is just one tangible result of that for a little girl who wasn't just a nameless client to them. They got to know her, they loved her and she mattered to them. I'm thankful for these students. They will be excellent engineers who will make a difference for God’s kingdom as they go from this place."