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Student designs with quality of life in mind

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A. Sue Weisler

Paula Garcia has a lifelong commitment to community service and hopes her adaptive devices can help those living with spinal-cord injuries.

Paula Garcia has her designs set on improving people’s quality of life.

From a young age, the third-year industrial design major from Bethesda, Md., has been committed to giving back.

“I did a lot of service work growing up. The middle school I attended encouraged us to really be part of the community,” says Garcia. “I volunteered at soup kitchens, nursing homes, animal shelters and thrift stores.”

At RIT, her focus has been improving wellness and developing adaptive devices for people with spinal-cord injuries.

Garcia has redesigned a dorsal splint to make it easier for individuals to use in their daily lives. The splint is primarily used by those who’ve suffered C5/C6 vertebrae injuries.

“Without the splint, the patient’s hands are flaccid so they have no control over their hands or fingers. With the current design, people have to wait for an assistant to help put it on. People with cervical injuries can’t feel when they get an infection or a pressure sore, especially if they are wearing a splint for a long period of time. Cleaning and repairing the splints can be difficult without the assistance of an aid, so it’s easier for the patient to just replace it.”

Garcia says her redesign increases the independence of the user, reduces pressure sores and infections, is easier to clean and is less expensive to manufacture than what is on the market. She is applying for a provisional patent.

She got the opportunity to conduct research last summer with spinal-cord injury patients, occupational therapists, physical therapists and vendors after winning a McNair Scholarship. The scholars program is for students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. and provides a graduate-school experience through academic research and mentoring. Garcia is also part of the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program program which provides research experiences for students who are historically underrepresented or financially disadvantaged, as well as mentoring, academic funding, GRE preperatory classes and tutoring.

One of Garcia’s mentors is Dana Wolcott, an adjunct faculty member in the E. Philip Saunders College of Business.

“The attribute that stands out with Paula is her empathy and compassion for the splint users; this in turn drives her passion for the product,” says Wolcott. “Many times it is the passion for your idea that is required to bring it to life.”

Garcia has shared her passion for her design at various conferences.

“After I spoke at University at Buffalo, a very enthusiastic woman approached me about my research. She had a brother with a spinal-cord injury who, at the time was in physical rehabilitation therapy. To hear this feedback makes what I do all worth it.”

Garcia’s grandfather was among those who inspired her to go into this area of design.

“As my grandfather’s body degenerated with age, he wasn’t able to be as independent as he liked. As I grew up, my experiences made me realize that this issue was universal.”

Garcia’s service-oriented thinking spills over into her extracurricular activities. She volunteers at the Rochester Rehabilitation Center and an animal shelter and is a member of service fraternity Phi Sigma Pi.

Garcia also minors in marketing and entrepreneurship. Taking full advantage of all the opportunities RIT has to offer, Garcia is the vice lead fellow in the Center for Student Innovation and part of Entrepreneurs Hall.

“I haven’t encountered one faculty member at RIT who isn’t excited about the innovation process and willing to help you out,” says Garcia. “If you don’t take advantage of the faculty and technology around you, you aren’t making the most of it.”


A. Sue Weisler

Paula Garcia has a lifelong commitment to community service and hopes her adaptive devices can help those living with spinal-cord injuries.