Student Launches Club to Help Individuals With Disabilities

For as long as he can remember, Amanuel Matias has wanted to become an engineer. “Unlike many of my peers, I’m not as drawn to the more traditional aerospace and automotive industries,” says the senior mechanical engineering major at Loyola Marymount University. “However, I do still quite enjoy the problem solving and collaboration aspects of engineering, where you’re sitting down with other people and getting work done.”

Matias is drawn to projects that make a direct impact on people’s lives. Prior to starting at LMU, he heard about Quality of Life Plus —a national organization that challenges university STEM students to design assistive technology devices for people in the community with disabilities. When Matias learned there was no chapter at LMU, he was disappointed. “Then, around the beginning of my junior year, I realized there was nothing stopping me from starting the club here at LMU,” he says.

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Camille Bennett (left) and Amanuel performed hand-function tests using the items shown on the table in the picture. During the testing, the students were equipped with a motion-capture system to record their joint angles, which were later analyzed for natural movement.

Along with fellow mechanical engineering students Nash Franca and Finn Lynch, Matias officially launched the LMU chapter of QL+ last fall, and the club is already up to approximately 25 active members. Matias is part of a group of QL+ club members creating a collapsible prosthetic shower leg for an amputee who often travels for work and needs to be able to fit the prosthesis in his carry-on luggage. Matias, who learned of the man’s wish for such an item after coming across the online amputee support group he heads, hopes the collapsible leg will have utility beyond the individual for whom the prototype is intended. “There’s really nothing like this being sold right now,” he says.

After undergoing two surgeries on his knee a few years ago, Matias became interested in the minimally invasive technology that was used and began to eye a career designing surgical robotics —widely viewed as a major part of surgery’s future for its ability to enable and improve on minimally invasive procedures. Last summer he landed his ideal internship, working remotely as a design quality-engineering intern with the surgical robotics team at Medtronic. By the end of the internship, Matias had accepted an offer to move to Connecticut and join the team after graduation.

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The image Amanuel is holding shows the different subsystems that make up Medtronic’s robot-assisted surgery system.

Matias, who grew up in San Diego, applied to multiple schools but fell in love with LMU after a visit. “I was able to talk with some of the students and see what a great community this is,” he says. “It’s a place where I’ve been able to develop meaningful relationships with students and faculty, get involved in research, and start a club that will continue after I’m no longer at LMU. Looking back, I’m super happy with my choice.”