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York College student among winners in national engineering competition featuring elite universities

Travis Jones ’19 competed against students from schools including Yale, Columbia and MIT at the Engineering Innovation for Society’s inaugural student-design competition at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

When Travis Jones thinks back to the first hackathon at York College of Pennsylvania in 2016, he jokes he came for the food and free stuff.

He’d end up leaving with much more: an award that led to a grant, a spot in the college’s student-centric business incubator, and the confidence and experience needed to compete at a national level.

When Travis first heard about the Engineering Innovation for Society’s inaugural student-design competition event hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he was a little hesitant.

His focus has been on Computer Science, and the competition was specifically for Mechanical Engineering. Further, the event would feature students from colleges and universities across the Northeast, including Yale, Columbia University and MIT.

It was a long shot, at best, he thought. But, the offer included a $100 travel budget, and he figured he didn’t have much to lose.

So, he went to New York in January to compete. At the end of the weekend-long event, Travis found himself in a familiar position: with another accolade in a student-innovation competition, this one being a first-place award for his team’s design of a device that helps individuals with disabilities.

Had he not taken a risk and applied to be a part of the event, he says, he wouldn’t have experienced a unique learning opportunity

“It definitely gave me some good experience under my belt,” he says.

Figuring out a solution

Travis was part of a five-person team with one problem to solve: how to help hypertonic patients with involuntary movement of a wrist muscle.

They were given three milestones to reach over the course of the weekend: They had to identify and propose solutions, present an ideal solution and create and present a prototype.

Hypertonic patients tend to have cerebral palsy or brain damage from a stroke that causes their muscles to clench and, at times, even shorten, making opening and closing their hand muscles next to impossible.

The result is often a clenched fist that can lead to hygiene issues or even cause damage to the skin from fingernails not being able to be cut and pushing into the skin.

To solve this problem, Travis and his team went to work, creating a hand expander device made from a piece of pipe and an inflatable balloon.

To engineer their hypertonic grip expander, they used a pipe to insert into the person’s hand, so they can slowly fill it up with air pressure, causing the hand to open a little bit at a time – until eventually they can open the hand enough to stretch the muscles in the wrist to keep it open for longer periods of time.

Travis says he sees the value of this type of work.

“It’s really motivating and exciting that you get to help your community," he says, "even though you are a college student."

Their hand splint device – all built within the weekend – was good enough to win first place in the event.

A hands-on college experience

Today, Travis continues to work on his award-winning project from YCP Hacks through his office in the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship. His business Provino, which means “audition” in Italian, helps streamline DreamWrights community theater’s audition application process.

“This is one of the reasons I chose York College,” Travis says. “It offers a lot of hands-on learning all the way from your freshman year to when you graduate.”

Travis says there are so many opportunities for a student to get involved – and they should.

When you get the opportunity, he says, go for it.

“This is a unique time in our lives to have all of these opportunities – many of which are free and offer free food to go along with them,” he says, “so students really should make an effort because it can really make a difference.”