2016 Focus Award Recipients


Staff - Dr. Carla Zoltowski

Founded in Fall 1995, the Purdue EPICS program challenges teams of undergraduate students to design, build, and deploy real systems to solve engineering-based problems for local community service and education organizations.  EPICS has grown to over 500 students as of the spring 2016 semester. Under its current leadership, 11 of the 40 EPICS divisions are devoted to issues of accessibility and access, engaging about 170 students on 25 active projects.

Dr. Carla Zoltowski is the Co-Director of the EPICS program and serves as a wonderful advocate for pushing students to find engineering solutions to a myriad of accessibility issues faced by individuals with disabilities. Dr. Zoltowski personally teaches four divisions, which have set the standard for hard work and success. Under her leadership, all of the more than 500 EPICS students are introduced to human-centered design, with examples of working with people with disabilities as well as issues of diversity through use of people-first language. She and her students have delivered dozens of successful designs that have been used by individuals, families, schools and clinics, locally, regionally, and even globally.

Outside of EPICS, Dr. Zoltowski created a summer experience for Purdue students in partnership with Camp Riley, an accessible outdoor summer camp. Of the many wonderful projects that arose out of this educational partnership included a sailboat that cannot capsize and is controlled with a sip and puff controller.

Additionally, Dr. Zoltowski has led more than a dozen workshops for faculty on a national level to help identify opportunities of addressing issues of access and accessibility as a way to teach design.

Dr. Carla Zoltowski is a nationally recognized leader in engineering education and advocacy for individuals with disabilities. As her co-director put it, “[Dr. Zoltowski] is a tireless and fearless advocate for people with disabilities. She has a keen radar for these issues and pushes me, our students and faculty and our program. We have achieved a great deal and so much of the credit goes to her.”

Student - Kyle McNulty

Kyle McNulty is an undergraduate student in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Kyle has been a member of the St. Vincent Advancement (SVAT) teams in EPICS for several years, and he also helped found the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired team as a spinoff of his SVAT project.  Through this team, Kyle has helped initiate and has led through development a novel, multi-line electronic braille display – which has been described as a Kindle for the blind.

Literacy statistics among the blind are abysmal, with a literacy rate below ten percent. A major factor of this problem is the poor availability of braille texts. Kyle’s project aims to reverse this trend by making a vast catalog of braille texts available electronically. Available technologies limit current braille e-readers to a single line of text, and many attempts at developing multi-line readers by other universities and private industry have failed.

Kyle has led his team over the past few years to develop a reader mechanism of their own design. Kyle has been the technical lead throughout the project, generating the majority of the concepts, models, and producing the prototypes.Kyle’s aptitude for design combined with his drive to bring accessibility to students with disabilities have helped the project transform from one that was too complex for undergraduate students to a project that has developed a successful prototype with true commercialization potential.

Kyle’s passion for helping other people through assistive technology is apparent in all of his work and interaction with team members. His enthusiasm has been infectious with his teammates, who have all put in long hours to bring this project to reality.  As his team advisor, Mr. Andrew Pierce, shared, “One of the most impressive things about Kyle as an engineer and as a person is his determination. As the team developed the braille e-reader, we have had a semester’s worth of work fail miserably, and it would have been easy to become discourage and give up. Instead, Kyle led his team in developing several alternative mechanisms, eventually landing on one that works beautifully.”

Alumna - Fizza Haider

Fizza Haider, a Purdue alumna of the College of Health and Human Sciences, hails from Lahore, Pakistan, and was significantly involved in a variety of extracurricular activities while studying at Purdue.Fizza was born with impaired vision but lost her sight due to a degenerative condition shortly after finishing high school. When she came to Purdue in August of 2011, she was an international student on an unfamiliar campus that she could not see, and she had just begun using a cane for guidance given the recent total loss of her vision.

Fizza did not just overcome; she flourished at Purdue. Beginning in June 2014, Fizza worked as an Assistive Technology Center assistant. In her role, she worked tirelessly to make Purdue’s technology infrastructure more accessible to individuals with disabilities. Fizza also worked as an academic resource guide for Purdue Promise. Through her involvement, she helped first-generation students who were on academic review use resources, develop good study habits, and generally achieve better academic footing. Additionally, Fizza served as a success mentor for the College of Health and Human Sciences for the 2014-2015 academic year, working with incoming freshman and assisting them in their transition to college.

Fizza is passionate about helping college students with disabilities be successful in college, and her dedication toward her fellow students with disabilities has made a great impact on her classmates.

Organization - IPFW Bridges to Education & Careers for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

The Bridges to Education and Careers for Students with Intellectual Disabilities program at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne provides opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to pursue post-secondary education through a structured curriculum. This program has been conceptualized, research, developed and implemented by Dr. Linda Fink, Dr. John Niser, Dr. Eric Norman, Mr. Eric Wagenfeld, and Ms. Suzanna Yuhasz, a true interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff. The program offers a pathway into the Hospitality Industry and Culinary Arts, with an emphasis on successfully transitioning students into the workforce through curricular and co-curricular offerings, while being paired with peer mentors.

The Bridges program is designed to fully integrate students into the University, while allowing multiple pathways in and out of the program to individually meet their needs all the way through matriculation and graduation. Classes are structured with other matriculated students to scaffold the educational opportunity. Assessments and rubrics have been developed and there are planning meetings to evaluate progress outside of the academic grades and credits, including social, vocational and career components.

The implementation of the program has consisted of extensive outreach with students, families, businesses, and vocational rehabilitation programs while connecting with other higher educational colleges and universities that offer similar programs. The Bridges program is also expected to expand to other career options and course offerings and on campus housing, which makes IPFW the only school in the state with this option.