Projects with Purpose

GPS engineering students spend their year on projects meant to make a difference.
At GPS, we know girls learn best when they can make real-world connections to the lessons they are taught in their classrooms. This year, Mrs. April Ross, computer science and engineering teacher, took that concept one step further. While her lesson plans allowed the students in her Intro to Engineering class hands-on experience, she charged them to use that experience to make the world a better place.

First semester, students were given an open-ended task: solve a problem within the GPS community. Given the severity of the pandemic, they all chose projects related to COVID-19.

Mary Stuart Hornsby ’21, recognizing the importance of keeping hands clean amid a global health crisis, created a hard plastic insert that prevented doors from latching all the way. This meant people could use a hands-free footplate to open them. After four prototypes, using different materials in the 3D printer, she finally came upon one that was flexible enough to be fitted into the door frame but also firm enough to withstand the force of the latch pressing against it. Even though doors couldn’t technically latch with the stopper in place, they could still be locked with the deadbolt when necessary. Mary Stuart's door inserts were installed all across campus.

Caroline Eck ’21 designed an app that made it easier for girls to sign in and out of campus and complete a COVID-19 screening. She felt the process in place (using QR codes) was a bit cumbersome and required frequent logging in and out of the system. With her app prototype, she wanted an option to remain logged in for the day. “I used the MIT App Inventor to create my app,” she explained. “I first created the screens and what I wanted them to look like and read, and then I went to the coding side, which allows you to bring the app to life.” With Caroline’s app, students would be prompted to sign in and complete the screening, and they could remain logged in all day. If they had any COVID symptoms, the app would automatically inform Ms. Kimberly Reid ’13, COVID Coordinator, and Jo Brotton, Upper School Administrative Assistant, who could mark them absent and update the campus COVID numbers in the system.

Mary Claire Nimon ’22 focused on lunch safety. “In the winter months and on rainy days, outdoor eating is no longer an option, so GPS provides plexiglass shields,” she said. “However, these can be bulky, can fall off desks, and are more likely to spread germs since they are used by many.” Her solution was to create a collapsible plastic shield out of flexible vinyl from a pop-up clothes hamper to provide a portable alternative to maximize safety during lunch. These shields were small enough and light enough to be transported around campus in a backpack.

Second semester, the task changed ever-so slightly. This time the girls were told to solve a problem within the Chattanooga community. Again, the girls took initiative and set their sights on making a difference.

Mary Stuart, who has long volunteered for the Chattanooga Humane Education Society and frequently fosters animals, designed a photography system to allow employees and volunteers to photograph the shelter animals that are up for adoption. These photos can be shared on the Humane Society’s website and social media platforms, and better photos are useful in improving adoptions rates. The system she created consists of a portable green screen and light. 

Caroline drew from her experience as a Glenwood tutor. “When COVID-19 hit, I saw firsthand how hard it was for the kids to access online classes and do school virtually,” she said. “From there, I knew I wanted to create a more affordable computer.” She researched her idea and worked with Mrs. Ross to plan a design. “At first, it was difficult because I had never done anything like that before, but through my background in computer science, I knew I would be able to overcome any problem that came my way,” she said. “Looking back now, I enjoy the challenges and obstacles that I ran into along the way because it allowed me to create the best version possible." Her computer prototype costs under $200 and is capable of conducting Zoom and Google classroom sessions.

Mary Claire drew her inspiration from a friend of the family. “I have an elderly family friend who has a long walk to her mailbox, so unnecessary trips can be frustrating,” she said. “I chose to create a system that alerts her when her mail has arrived.” The system consists of two units, one that goes inside the mailbox and the other that will reside in the neighbor's house to notify her of mail delivery.

With broad parameters that required thoughtful brainstorming, the innovative projects her students designed had Mrs. Ross beaming. “I'm very proud of all my engineering students,” she said. “They each developed projects to truly benefit both the GPS and broader community.”