HESPERIA — An eighth-grader at Cedar Middle School is excited to make his science fair project about solving a real-life problem that's personal to his family.
Roman Rodriguez, 13, just won his school science fair last week with his project “Making the Prosthetic Foot a Real Foot,” where he designed an artificial appendage for his handicapped younger cousin, 6-year-old Ileeya Tavera.
Ileeya was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency. The rare birth defect caused her left hip to deform, shortening her leg, which led to her doctor's decision to amputate it when she was about 3 years old, Roman said.
“I am trying to use this project as a way to help her,” Roman said. “My teacher told me, ‘You can do a science project, or take something and make it better.'”
His goal is to make a prosthetic foot that actually grows along with Ileeya, since the foot she has right now is already too small for her. Within his project presentation, he showed a video of Ileeya’s first steps when she first got her prosthetic foot a few years ago.
“Now she’s like, way sassy,” Roman said. “She likes to sing and dance. She’s an actor — she goes around making shows for us.”
One of the challenges Ileeya's current prosthetic foot presents is finding shoes, since the artificial foot is smaller than her real one, requiring two different size shoes.
The prototype Roman won Cedar’s science fair with was made out of clay. When his teacher, Kirsten Janowicz, excitedly shared her student’s project with her mother, Hesperia Junior High School Principal Lisa Kelly, a collaboration between the two schools began to take the project to the next level. Kelly invited Roman to come to HJHS to use their 3D printers for his project before the district fair this Saturday.
On Monday, Roman went to HJHS and met Kelly, along with Sandro Flores, a seventh-grader with a recently attained talent of using 3D printers and software.
Sandro's engineering elective teacher, Peter Dippell, chose him as a peer tutor to help Roman with his project because of his advanced ability and “artistic sense” using 3D printers.
Sandro, 12, said he’s only been working with the printers for about three weeks, and Kelly noted that “it’s amazing how quick they pick it up.”
After using Tinkercad, a free 3D design tool, for only a couple hours on Monday, Roman had already designed his prototype for the foot, while Sandro made his own so that they could compare the two and determine the best model.
“It’s kind of just like building on 'Minecraft,'” Roman said, referring to a popular 2011 sandbox video game. “I think learning is better when you use video games.”
Dippell said Roman’s project reflects the culture of the “Maker Movement,” a trend characterized by do-it-yourself technology projects, which he says he has developed his curriculum around.
“The idea is to get kids back to making things,” Dippell said. “And to get them to become conscious of problem-solving.
“As a teacher, you can’t keep up with all of the new technology. You just have to let go, and the students ultimately get more out of it. It allows them to be more creative.”
Roman’s project is a prime example of creative initiative. As he conducted his research, he said he didn’t find any prosthetics similar to the extending foot he’s designing.
“I’ve learned a lot about people with prosthetics, and how lucky I am to have been born with two legs,” Roman said.
If the project turns out the way he hopes hopes, Roman said he would be excited to pass it on to help more people in need of prosthetics besides Ileeya.
Charity Lindsey may be contacted at 760-951-6230 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DP_Charity.