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Mechanical engineering senior design students partner with Passion Works Studio to create accessible art

Baylee Demuth, Marissa McDaid, and Colleen Carow | Jan 21, 2020
mechanical engineers at passion works studio

Mechanical engineering senior design students partner with Passion Works Studio to create accessible art

Baylee Demuth, Marissa McDaid, and Colleen Carow | Jan 21, 2020

When you walk into Passion Works Studio in Athens, Ohio, you’re met with a vibrant display of colors, shapes and textures. A center where local artists with developmental disabilities create bright and imaginative pieces, Passion Works is a well-known community landmark and storefront.

It’s also a place where mechanical engineering students from Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology got a shot at creating an art installation themselves. As part of the ME capstone senior design course, themed “Designing to Make a Difference,” the students crafted up an interactive display of the studio’s signature “Passion Flower” that’s deemed the official flower of the city of Athens.

“Building an art installation like this is something we’ve been dreaming about,” said Passion Works Founder and CEO Patty Mitchell. “The idea is to turn Passion Works into a palace of wonder."

Brainchild of the very recently graduated John Satterfield, BSME ‘20, Jordan Sheppard, BSME ’19, Keith Neely, BSME ’19, and Mitchell Howard, BSME ’19, the “Spinning Flowers System” consists of six brightly colored, metal flowers that visitors can spin simultaneously by cranking a bike pedal. The goal is to draw attention to the artists’ works and give employees and patrons a new way to interface with the art. 

The project began last year as part of the students’ year-long capstone course, which tasks them with developing a project, from design to build, for a local client. 

Howard said the local community played key roles in bringing the idea to life.

“We incorporated bike parts because of the biking culture in Athens – Cycle Path and Athens Bicycle donated critical parts to complete our design,” Howard said. “If I could do it all over again, I’d spend more time with the artists myself to allow for more inclusivity when using the display.”

This isn’t the first time OHIO mechanical engineering students teamed with Passion Works to create for good. Teams of student engineers have designed an adaptive device to help an artist with multiple sclerosis paint more easily, designed a cleaning system to remove ink from metal lithographic printing-press plates for use as art materials, and designed an aluminum cutting machine to aid in the construction of Passion Flowers – winning a national award.

“Passion Works has been a great project partner, and we hope this project not only helps bring community members into their studio to appreciate the art and the artists, but also showcases how engineers and artists can create a better and more beautiful world together,” said course creator Greg Kremer, who is also Robe Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Mechanical engineering students have won more than $100,000 in prize monies from design competitions over the last decade. They’ll display this year’s capstone projects in April during their annual demo day.