Tab Bamford, February 14, 2014

Tonight after the Wolverines take on Minnesota in men's hockey, learn more about two incredible programs at the University of Michigan: its rehab robotics group, and a class of students that's developing software for a 13-year-old girl with cerebral palsy named Grace.

BTN LiveBIG spoke with two students involved in the software engineering class, and they shared the impact working with Grace and her family has had on their experience at the University of Michigan.

Catherine Fisher and Cory Gordinier are both senior computer science engineering majors.

Gordinier, now a teaching assistant in the class, noted that seniors have a few options to complete their major coursework. This capstone class reflected his interests more than some of the other available choices.

?I went into the class knowing that there would be a focus on a disability, and developing applications to assist with that disability,? said Gordinier. ?But I didn?t know there would be as much of a personal connection.?

Fisher indicated that she was interested in the class before knowing about working with Grace. ?I thought the class would be good way to learn about computer science and do more with it than just develop video games or mobile apps,? she said.

Working with Grace had an immediate impact on both students? work in the class.

?It was really exciting for me to meet Grace and her family and do something with a customer that was actually physically there rather than making something for someone elsewhere that we don?t know or haven?t met,? said Fisher.

?Having Grace around has helped me empathize with the user,? Fisher continued. ?Nobody in the class has anything as debilitating as Grace?s condition. For us, it?s easy to sit there and say ?using a joystick is easy? or ?using a mobile app is easy? but having Grace there helped me keep myself and my group focused on what works for the user more than necessarily what the coolest technology is that we can create.?

Gordinier agreed that the personal interaction with Grace was a game-changer.

?Meeting and working with Grace forced me to have a more personal perspective,? said Gordinier. ?When you?re doing a normal project for other computer science, you can reach a point where you say ?This is good enough.? Given how this class was structured and the personal connection with Grace, there was never a point where I said ?enough.??

Both students said working with Grace has impacted their future plans as well.

?I?m doing an internship that focuses on accessibility - helping users that might not be able to use technology the same way as others,? said Fisher. ?Working with Grace made me more aware of the potential of technology.?

Gordinier is hoping to develop an app to market himself, and has taken advantage of the resources made available at Michigan.

?The class put students in touch with a lot of university resources for entrepreneurship, and all of those resources are focused on trying to help students get their app off the ground.?