Alyssa Mobley wants to be a biomedical engineer and thanks to 4-H, two dedicated club advisors, and an award-winning project, she’s got a great head start on her career goals.
In fifth grade, Alyssa joined the 4-H GEAR club in her county—the Geauga Engineering and Robotics club. Advisors Adrienne and Jeff La Favre began the club eight years ago at the urging of Geauga County 4-H educator, Alisha Faudie, who wanted a robotics club for youth. Jeff became interested in electronics as a high school student, and it was a major part of his career as a microbiologist. Adrienne was already an advisor for another 4-H club, so the 4-H GEAR club was born.
The La Favres designed a curriculum for all ages of members. Younger members learn how to program a basic robot. Beginning in sixth grade, they study electronics, learning how to build a robot, solder a circuit board, build a crystal radio and amplifier, and move on to program a robot using C language.
Once GEAR members are in high school, they first review what they’ve learned to-date. Jeff La Favre said, “Then we turn them loose as ‘Journeymen’ and they are in charge of making their own project. It blows your mind about the stuff they come up with!”
It was as a Journeyman in GEAR that Alyssa developed her project. “Mr. and Mrs. La Favre knew I loved building things and suggested I look into e-NABLE.”
e-NABLE is a worldwide group of volunteers who use 3D printers to make prosthetic upper limbs for children and adults. “I’d only done 3D printing in school, but this sounded like a really cool idea!” said Alyssa.
To participate, Alyssa first had to be certified by the organization. It involved demonstrating her abilities to use a 3D printer by building a test device, then assembling it to ensure it was functional. Alyssa earned the badges for her certification and began her project.
A fellow student and neighbor of Alyssa’s was born without fingers on his left hand. “My brothers played sports with him. He wanted a prosthetic when he was younger but didn’t have one.” With her e-Nable certification, Alyssa went to work.
The project began during COVID restrictions, so the two met via Zoom. “I told him how to take photos, so I could get the correct measurements.” But the construction process didn’t always go smoothly. The first hand she printed stretched some of the pieces, so it wasn’t a perfect fit. A power outage sabotaged the second effort. A third hand was still too big, the fourth was too small, and then Alyssa printed the fifth hand.
“I knew we were finally getting closer,” said Alyssa. “I could feel it!” The prosthetic device was assembled with elastic Velcro and finger pieces with grips. A fitting with her friend involved inserting padding to ensure a perfect fit, and this time everything worked.
“He wanted to be able to make a fist and ride his scooter. He grabbed his scooter, clamped down and with a slight modification of the scooter handle, felt stable on it. Now with his left hand, he can pick up a water bottle, grasp a doorknob, and pick up small objects.”
Alyssa documented her two years of work and turned it into her Self-Determined project this year. At the Ohio State Fair, judges recognized her accomplishment by awarding her a clock trophy, the highest 4-H project honor. “It’s a rewarding feeling,” said Alyssa. “You work so hard and then have something that helps other people.”
Her GEAR Club advisors were confident in Alyssa’s talents. “She was always proactive,” said Jeff La Favre.” She didn’t hesitate to ask questions and go to experts for help on the project.”
And Alyssa credits the La Favres with guiding her career goals. “Everything I’ve learned comes from the GEAR Club. When I started in fifth grade, I’d never done anything with electronics. Mr. La Favre gave me a bread board and light bulbs and told me to light them all up. He let me sit there and figure it out. The La Favres and the support and guidance from my club advisors led me to where I am today. I am confident I will be successful in college and future careers because of everything they taught me.”