Sierra Andrews, a freshman double majoring in biomedical engineering and computer science, will be attending a 10-week summer program at Rehabilitation Engineering at Cleveland State University (RE@CSU), funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduate Program. The program immerses undergraduate students in research projects that aim to improve the lives of people with movement disabilities. This is especially close to Andrews’ heart as she was injured in a car crash her senior year of high school which severed her spinal cord. Now wheelchair bound, Andrews is determined to make a difference in the lives of others.

“The research project I was selected for is working on bringing self-care robots into everyday homes to help people with disabilities complete everyday tasks,” explained Andrews. “It focuses on determining what changes need to be made to the robots to ensure that they can be useable outside of a lab setting. I am particularly excited for this research as someone who is a part of the paraplegic community. People with any sort of paralysis commonly have difficulty doing everyday tasks, which is incredibly disheartening, and the possibility of helping create something that lessens the amount of said tasks is an amazing opportunity and incredibly important to me.”

The everyday tasks Andrews’ group will be focusing on include brushing teeth and eating. CSU developed a system that allows people to use their eye and head movements to select objects identified by computer vision software and have a robot interact with a selected object. Andrews’ group will be working on transitioning this system from a controlled laboratory environment to a less predictable home environment. The program also offers opportunities to engage with the community to enhance the lives of others.

“Outside of the program I am most excited to volunteer with an organization CSU has that helps people with recent spinal cord injuries adapt their house with technology such as Alexa, and I am really looking forward to taking part in this organization and learning from people in a similar situation to mine and their thoughts and experiences about life as someone with this type of injury. Within the program I am most excited to meet others who have a similar passion to help others have a better way of life and independence.”

Andrews looks forward to applying the computer science and biomedical engineering skillsets she learned at MSOE to her projects at CSU. She always had a love for programming and computer science, but it wasn’t until after her accident that she decided to double major in biomedical engineering. She plans to use her degrees to make life easier for those with disabilities. “I hope to use both degrees to get a master’s degree or doctorate in neurological engineering to hopefully help lessen the pain that people with nerve damage experience on the daily.”

Coming from Nekoosa, Wisconsin and a high school class of 60 students, MSOE felt like the perfect fit for Andrews because of the people, small classes and the accessibility the university offers. “When I first applied and toured MSOE I was an able-bodied individual, and after my injury MSOE was incredibly understanding and helpful and continues to be,” said Andrews. “My favorite part of MSOE is by far the people I’ve met. I get to meet so many people with many different interests, lifestyles, beliefs and much more. Even with these differences, it’s easy to connect with others, build relationships with them, and overall, just create a fun and enriching experience at MSOE.”

For fun, Andrews enjoys working out, crocheting, diamond painting, reading and swimming.