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Who Do You Enable?

October 21, 2015

About Me 

Jacob Holstein is a senior Mechanical Engineering major from Sharon, MA. He has completed co-ops at Protonex Technology Corporation, Analogic Corporation, and is currently working on his third co-op at Boston Engineering Corporation. On campus, he is an active volunteer at the Center for STEM Education, a Gordon Mentor for incoming freshman engineers, and co-founder and president of Enabling Engineering. Outside of Northeastern, Jacob enjoys skiing on weekends and plans to spend his winter break in Colorado.  

Who Do You Enable? 

It all started with an email, for me at least. It talked about an idea for a new student group, Enabling Engineering, whose goal was to use engineering technologies to build low cost solutions to problems in a disabled individuals' life. In the past, I have volunteered in various capacities at charity events, psychiatric hospitals, and outpatient facilities with my family, but never with an organization that combines my love for engineering with the sole admirable goal of helping people who aren’t able to help themselves.

The first Enabling Engineering meeting was the pivotal moment for me. The academic advisor, Waleed Meleis, was present and motivated to turn this future student group into a pinnacle of the College of Engineering. Even though there were only four projects at the start, we stormed ahead. iCraft, an electrical engineering capstone project that received nationwide fame for its eye tracking robotic arm, was our seminal project and the fact that a Northeastern graduate lead it was an additional bonus.

As the weeks went by, three others and I worked to create a constitution and bylaws that would legitimize the projects’ tireless work in the eyes of the university, which finally happened in March of 2013. We were finally an official club within the college of engineering and I, as a sophomore, was the inaugural Treasurer, a position that I was exceptionally proud of. 

Year by year, participation in Enabling Engineering had increased to the point where we were actually being recognized. One of our first completed projects was built for a paralyzed patient at Lifestream Inc, an organization devoted to assisting disabled adults and their families by providing daily services to enable independence. We were able to incorporate a fully functional computer with an external monitor, and specialty accessories to enable a paralyzed and mute individual to communicate.

However, not only were we being noticed by people in healthcare, companies in the area reached out to us wanting to help with our projects in addition to submitting a few ideas of their own. This camaraderie spurred the creation of our mentoring program where engineering professionals guide 1-2 projects a piece towards the creation of an effective final product. Currently, three companies are involved in this mentoring program along with countless devoted physical therapy and engineering professors.

In the past two and a half years, that small club with less than 30 members and four officers has exploded into an organization with over 150 members, 18 ongoing projects, a yearly engineering elective, and finished products that are being used as far away as Ecuador. And I am incredibly proud to be able to say that I was a part of the Executive boards that helped make this possible.

From the first few months of being treasurer through my year as Vice President and the past year and a half as President, I have been constantly reminded of the huge effect a small group of people can have. Most engineers take their understanding of the world around them for granted; they don’t realize that most people cannot assemble a piece of IKEA furniture easily or even fully utilize their smartphones. When you look at the smaller environment consisting of health professionals and their patients, you realize that some of the equipment or lack thereof can be easily enhanced, but the people capable of this are not present in these settings: engineers.

When a patient needs a hip transplant, you call an orthopedic surgeon. If someone is diagnosed with schizophrenia, a psychiatrist can help. When hospital mattresses are too hard and cause bed sores, call Enabling Engineering. We want to be the organization that patients and health care professionals call on when their tools, systems and equipment doesn’t work properly, and we will re-engineer a cost effective, fully functioning solution while giving our students the valuable experience they need to improve their engineering abilities. In this way, we can enable independence, influence positive change, and hopefully help a few people live happier lives along the way.  

The question I like to pose to engineers interested in joining us is: who do you enable? Each and every person has the ability to affect change far beyond his or her personal view of themselves. Given the opportunity, maybe we can all make small efforts in our own life that mean the world to someone incapable of doing the same.