Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Seniors Win Davis Projects for Peace Grant

Darby Shuler and Johan (Manuel) Garcia Padilla, seniors at Washington and Lee University, have won a $10,000 grant from the Davis Foundation Projects for Peace 2014. The grant will fund their work in El Salvador this summer to provide amputees with prosthetic hands created by a 3D printer.

Shuler, a biochemistry major, is from Columbia, S.C. Padilla, a native of Mexico from Mount Vermont, Wash., is a Spanish major with a minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Both are fluent in Spanish and have a combined work experience in health and clinical work in countries across South and South America, including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, where Shuler has volunteered for the past four years. They will be accompanied by junior psychology majors  Alessandra Catizone from Randolph, N.J. and Eleanor (Ellie) Jones from Richmond, Va., who also has a minor in music.

“I thought El Salvador would be a good place to start this project,” explained Shuler, who worked with the Salvadoran Mission Projects (SMP), an organization that coordinates development initiatives throughout the country to improve the lives of the economically disadvantaged.

According to their application to the Davis Projects for Peace, which is titled “Lending a Helping Hand,” there is a growing demand for prosthetics around the world, but especially in El Salvador and Central America.  The loss of a limb from chronic disease, natural disaster or an accident, often results in the inability to work and support oneself. Many amputees therefore live in poverty and while prosthetic limbs can make a difference they are expensive and difficult to replace after normal wear.

Shuler and Padilla will use a Makerbot Replicator 2X printer to produce the Robohand (http://www.robohand.net/)  model of a prosthetic hand, an open source model that can be printed by any owner of a 3D printer at a quarter of the cost of a regular prosthetic hand.

Shuler has practiced creating the hand in Washington and Lee’s new Integrative Quantitative (IQ) Center in consultation with Robohand. “In January the IQ Center just got the printer I will be using, so that was really exciting,” said Shuler. “And David Pfaff, the IQ Center coordinator, was very supportive of us learning there.”

The students will purchase a 3D printer and take it to El Salvador, where they will print out the prosthetic hands and work with local doctors, nurses and prosthetic experts to adjust the prosthetic limbs to patients.

The hand has the ability to grasp items when the amputee closes his or her elbow. It is made with Orthoplastic (thermoplastic), which is moldable, breathable, washable and medically approved for this type of use. It is custom molded to the wearer to limit the possibility of skin lesions, infection and injury, which adds to the amputee’s comfort.

Shuler and Padilla hope to fit up to 30 Robohands during the summer. They will work with their collaborators to determine the capability of payment per patient and those who have been unemployed will have an incremental payment plan.

Once the summer project is completed, they plan to present the results to the Salvadoran department of health to advocate for further funding to local and international charities. A long term goal is to expand the program within Central America.

“These two students have been true student leaders in our efforts to bring global learning onto our campus and into our classrooms,” said Laurent Boetsch, director of international education at W&L. “They have accomplished what we aspire for all our students. As our Mission Statement declares, they are now fully prepared for ‘engagement in a diverse and global society,’ and this award allows them to put that preparation into practice.”

This is the seventh consecutive year W&L students have won one of the grants. W&L is one of more than 90 colleges and universities eligible to receive funds from the Davis Projects for Peace because they participate in the Davis program, which provides scholarships to students who attend the United World Colleges, a series of international high schools around the world.

Projects for Peace is part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, based in Middlebury, Vt. Kathryn Wasserman Davis, a philanthropist and the widow of Shelby Cullom Davis, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, has put up $1 million in each of the past five years to fund 100 Projects for Peace.

Kathryn Wasserman Davis launched the initiative on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 2007 to challenge college students to undertake meaningful and innovative projects. Designed to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace through the world in the 21st century, each of the projects receives $10,000 in funding each year.

Previous W&L Davis Peace Prize winners: