Emmeline is a two-year-old girl with a disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA. This disease affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat or breathe.
We sat down with Schmitz to learn more about his experience at Baylor, what it has been like to work on a project like Emme’s and what’s in store for his future.
Q: Why did you choose Baylor University’s engineering program?
A: My mom was a proud Baylor Bear, so Baylor was always on the radar. I attended Baylor Innovate Camp between my junior and senior years of high school and I really, really loved it. The camp was my first real tangible experience with engineering. It really prompted me to pursue classes that would help me in engineering while in my last year of high school. I went on college visits for the rest of that year and nothing else really compared, so I just had to come to Baylor.
Q: What have you liked the most about the program?
A: What I’ve enjoyed most is the faculty’s flexibility in helping me achieve what I want to do outside of the classroom, as well as inside the classroom. [Students] can get involved in fraternities, humanitarian work and other things like that and the program will give them just enough flexibility that if they are working hard enough at engineering, they can make it through without any issues. If your work ethic is up to the task, it is not a problem from the faculty’s perspective.
Q: As a senior engineering student, you are required to complete a senior design project. What led you to work on Emmeline’s chair/b>
A: I lined up my numbers on the project I preferred with one of the guys I wanted to work with, who is Sean Martin, our team lead. Having the right coworker can be more important than having the right job. Ultimately, if you have the right job and all the wrong coworkers then you can’t get the job done right. But if you’ve got a job with the right coworkers, you can really make a difference. And that’s what we are looking to do.
Q: What has it been like o meet and work with Emmeline’s family?
A: Meeting Jenny, Emme’s mom, was delightful. She is clearly a passionate and caring woman who loves her daughter a lot. She is aware of the fact that Emmeline’s condition is truly unlike any other. Emmeline has been subject to an experimental treatment, which means she is basically the first to get this far given her condition. She is getting stronger through what is generally a muscle degenerating disease, so that puts her in truly uncharted territory. In ten years, will she be strong enough to operate a wheel chair? We don’t know, but we do know most of the kids her age have not made it this far. Her condition is special. It also makes it an interesting challenge to design for.
Q: What challenges have you faced so far during the project?
A: The challenges we have faced are really making sure from a humanistic perspective that we attack everything that matters about this problem, without forgetting anything. We need to address the social aspects of what Emme’s chair looks like because Jenny is hoping to go out in public with it. It can’t be an absolutely absurd-looking, intimidating device. Also, we need to make sure someone with extraordinarily minimum strength can operate all the controls. This chair needs to carry Emme and more importantly support her correctly. What can become a bit of a soupy mess of ideas, we need to refine them. It has been a challenge, but it has been a good challenge to face.
We want to give Jenny all that we can without sacrificing the integrity of the situation. It is interesting; it’s great work, especially because we have to make these decisions now. It prepares us well for going out in the future.
Q: What is in store for your future?
A: I was offered a position with Credera, where I will be doing technological consulting. I will work with a team of management consultants and user experience consultants and we all blend together to solve problems of aging companies and any company that needs help with technology.
Q: Do you think what you learned and experienced at Baylor will help you stand out in your professional role?
A: Ultimately, [companies] are looking for leaders and Baylor trains leaders really well. You get used to being in charge and not in charge, which are both really important. God has blessed me through Baylor with this ability to talk about all my experiences, which are really far and wide from each other and how they blend together through an engineering education. That just isn’t matched by a lot of the peers who are competing for these same jobs.
Robert gives his perspective about working on a senior design team that created a child mobility aid for a two-year-old girl afflicted with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).