University of Rhode Island students are working on creating and developing prosthetic limbs for amputees in Columbia.

Thanks to a $25,000 federal grant through the 100,000 Strong in the Americas program, four URI students are getting the opportunity to design and develop prosthetic limbs.

The idea for the project came through with the grant, proposal and between URI and SENA Centro Nacional Colombo Alemán in Barranquilla, said Silke Scholz, director of the Spanish International Engineering Program.

“Both have capacities that work on prosthetics so it was a wonderful opportunity to work together,” Scholz said. “They want to learn from us and we will be learning from them. The project is called all-inclusive approach to sustainable prosthetics and the all-inclusive means we include the patient from the beginning.” She added that the patients are not only getting a product, but they are a part of the process and the prosthetic becomes something that belongs to them

They are currently in the first stage of four. They begin with virtual teamwork via skype with a team from SENA. The URI group is working with them alongside their patient to create custom prosthetics. They are still in the learning stage, learning about prosthetics in both countries and discussing in their teams how they are planning to make the prosthetics.

James Gannon, a sophomore electrical engineer and Spanish IEP student, is working with his partner to create a prosthetic arm for 7-year-old Samuel.

“He’s 7, so he’s going to grow out of his prosthetic device,” Gannon said, explaining how they are trying to cater to his needs. “It was really funny [because] he wants to have his arm designed to be Cyborg from Teen Titans.” Right now, he and his partner are working on the electronics part of the arm, figuring out motors, how to make an elbow joint, dealing with the weight and how to power it.

There are three other patients that the teams are working with as well, 20-year-old Nelly, 14-year-old Joysi and another patient that had not been assigned yet.

After the virtual team work part is done, the SENA team will come visit URI, stay in the IEP house and work on the project with the students here. After that, in August, the URI team will travel to Colombia for two weeks to further their work on the prosthetics. They will be staying with local Colombian families and learning the culture. The final part of the process will be presenting their project at the International Engineering Colloquium in Arizona in November. All the prosthetics will be 3D printed and presented to the patients in person.

Laura Parra, a junior biomedical engineering and Spanish IEP student also working on the project is excited to get to go to Columbia, being Columbian herself.

One of my long-term goals was to go back to Colombia and give back to my community so it’s great I get to have that chance so soon in my career,” said Parra, explaining how she is interesting in the prosthetic field and wants to go into the field when she graduates. “I’m very excited to see the patients faces when they actually get to use their prosthetic. I think that’s very life changing for them, to be able to do something they weren’t able to do before. I’m excited to see the outcome.”


Gannon added that he is excited to get to be exposed to the curriculum and to the real life application of it.

“I’m excited to do this because it’s where I get to research, I get to tinker, I get to try to design and make that final product,” he said. “That thing that was once plastic parts and you can bring it to life and learning a language helps you to connect to those people. They’re so far away and the have their own culture but just learning how to speak with them will tie you together because we’re working on the same things. And to bridge that gap is really cool to me.”

“It is so incredibly meaningful and inspiring to see the students already conversing in Spanish via skype with people in Colombia,” Scholz said. “Just to see how you can improve and better someone’s life with what you do. There’s a direct impact from what you do.”