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For a Girl With Cerebral Palsy, a Lacrosse Goal Achieved

College Park Academy Students Design Adaptive Stick as Part of Engineering for Us All Program

By Karen Shih ’09

A girl in a wheelchair throws a ball with an adaptive lacrosse stick into a net

Stella Stakolosa launches a ball into the net using an adaptive lacrosse stick designed by College Park Academy students, led by teacher Brendan McCarthy (left), as part of the Engineering for Us All program.

Photos by John T. Consoli

Soon-to-be 10-year-old Stella Stakolosa received a birthday gift unlike any other on Tuesday, when students at College Park Academy presented her with a lacrosse stick they’d designed just for her: hot pink, bendable and wheelchair-mounted.

Stella, who has cerebral palsy, was thrilled as she got ready to show off her skills, pulling a string to launch balls into the net during a demonstration outside the school.

“It’s awesome,” said her mom, Megan, as she watched Stella make goal after goal to cheers and applause. “She wants to be able to do things by herself.”

The adaptive device was designed by 19 juniors and seniors at College Park Academy (CPA), a public charter school launched with support from the University of Maryland in 2013 and located in UMD’s Discovery District. The students are part of the Engineering for Us All (e4usa) program, which was co-created by University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines and the American Society for Engineering Education.

“I’m not just the president, I’m also an engineer by training,” said Pines, who gifted Stella a Terps lacrosse shirt and hat. “I love projects like these, where students can use their creativity to come up with an engineered solution that truly impacts the life of a real person in a positive way.”

Darryll Pines speaks to Stella Stakolosa as she wears a red Terps hat and sits in her wheelchair
UMD President Darryll J. Pines, left, speaks to Stella Stakolosa after she demonstrates her adaptive lacrosse stick.

The e4usa initiative, funded by a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, aims to expand access to STEM education by providing a standardized curriculum for high school students to learn engineering principles, skills and practices. It’s active in schools across 25 states and territories, including CPA, which was named the No. 1 high school in Prince George’s County by U.S. News & World Report this year.

Led by e4usa teacher Brendan McCarthy, students worked in four groups to create the adaptive lacrosse stick, using parts from sticks donated by UMD’s intercollegiate teams. Each group addressed a different aspect of the design, from developing a trigger mechanism to enable Stella to use the stick to throw the ball to mounting a rear-view mirror to help expand her field of vision. They met with Stella, who lives in southern Anne Arundel County with her twin brother and parents, throughout the semester to figure out her needs and to make sure what they created fit her personality, since she loves the Disney princess “Sofia the First” and all things pink.

“When we first met her, my heart just melted. She was so sweet,” said Elizabeth Ayemi, who will study accounting and finance at UMD starting this fall.

Stella has never let her disability hold her back, said Megan. “I have a hard time saying no to her!” The elementary school student cheerleads and swims—so when she wanted to join the Parkville Adaptive Lacrosse league, her mom wanted to find the best equipment to allow her to play, since Stella has limited use of her arms and can’t hold and swing a traditional lacrosse stick. Volunteers for Medical Engineering then connected her with the e4usa class at CPA.

Each year, students in the course design a new adaptive device. This not only benefits those who receive them, such as the community member with Down syndrome who got an custom-built bike last year, but also the students who spend a semester working on the project.

“I learned that engineering can be anything,” said Ayemi. “Solving problems is really fun, and you can apply that anywhere in life.”

Students from College Park Academy with Stella Stakolosa
Students in the e4usa program at College Park Academy with Stella Stakolosa, a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who can now play lacrosse with an adaptive stick they designed to attach to her wheelchair.

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