It is 139 miles from Coffeyville to Wichita, a distance Sarah Woelk happily drove to help a few children make much shorter journeys.
Woelk, a second-year student in Wichita State University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, helped design and assemble toy ride-on cars for children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the semester, and several students returned in June to help finish and deliver the six cars.
She drove to Wichita three times with Christopher, her husband, a quality engineer for John Deere.
“I don’t want to miss out,” she said. “It’s so gratifying when you get to the delivery day. With some of them, it’s the first time they actually get to choose their movement. It’s so cool to see that realization.”
The College of Engineering sponsors GoBabyGo, which started in 2016, and usually features 40 to 80 students from several disciplines working on the cars. This semester, 46 students from all engineering disciplines, physical therapy and human factors participated.
“A lot of what we do is help give suggestions and options for how to best modify the car to fit the child,” Woelk said. “We take into account their special needs.”
Work on the spring semester’s six cars slowed about halfway into the project in March. Students scattered.
“They barely started modifications,” said Nathan Smith, Project Innovation hub manager. “A big part of it is, initially, finding time to meet the families. We meet with them so we can have a much better understanding of the child’s needs.”
Students regrouped to work remotely. When the campus began its phased reopening in late May, some returned to complete the project, meet families while observing COVID-19 precautions and finish design and assembly. Students wore masks and disinfected tools after use.
Some students picked up to complete cars for those who couldn’t return to campus, including one car that required the complicated addition of a child safety seat.
“We knew we had just a few weeks,” said Beth Watkins, speech language pathologist with Rainbows United. “We put out the call. ‘Who can come?’ In a couple intense build sessions, we finished up.”
On June 25, GoBabyGo delivered the sixth and final car.
“I am so impressed with the builders,” Watkins said. “A lot of them are done, they are graduated, they are in other places, doing internships and having jobs. So many of them are coming back to finish. Some are Zooming in, and some are calling in.”
Watkins said the GoBabyGo sponsors showed understanding during the pandemic. Julie Gentile, Julie Hey, Karen Hayes, TW Metals and Allstate insurance sponsored the project.
“They have been nothing but our cheerleaders,” she said. “I’ve really appreciated the support that they’ve shown.”
The GoBabyGo program is an applied learning experience that allows graduate and undergraduate students to practice following a budget, assessing children’s and families needs, designing and selecting materials, learning new tools, troubleshooting, and working in multidisciplinary teams.
To learn more about the program and projects, go to www.wichita.edu/gobabygo.