June 27, 2003
Even now, weeks after receiving word that he had been selected to receive the President's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, David Rice says he is still in awe of the recognition.
Rice, associate professor and a 22-year veteran of the biomedical engineering department, is not the kind of guy to toot his own horn, and he's lucky to have friends such as Kay C Dee, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who wrote a passionate cover letter for his nomination.
"Dr. Rice has been an outstanding colleague and mentor of mine for the past six years, and I know of no one more deserving of the President's Teaching Award," she writes in her opening paragraph.
Rice demurs and points to others, especially the countless undergraduates he has over the years guided through community-service projects.
"I think it is nice that they recognize that the students participate with members of the community and do good in addition to the experience they get with the projects," he says.
It would be difficult to consider Rice's tenure at Tulane without regarding his Team Design class, the two-semester, capstone experience in biomedical engineering. Students in the course are placed into teams and introduced to people with particular needs: those who are disabled, families of those with disabilities or special education teachers.
Over the course of the year, students get to know their clients and their clients' needs and, with input from Rice, design and develop specific products to address those needs.
"One of the big issues in working with people with disabilities is that everything has to be uniquely adapted to them because no one is exactly the same," says Rice, who developed the community-service component of the course to add a human perspective to the projects. "It evolved out of the sense that many of the projects that the students did were kind of dead-end--oyster shuckers and stair climbers. It seemed to me that we would get more value out of this if we had real clients."
The result has been an amazing number of motorized, mechanized and brilliantly engineered devices that extend the abilities of their users: a tooth-brushing system operated entirely by foot pedals, a lifting system to allow a paraplegic individual to move from wheelchair to bed and back, and office environments with specially crafted ergonomics to accommodate varying degrees of arm and leg control, wheel-chair and ventilator access and other needs.
For Rice, however, gratification comes from observing not only the sleek lines of design but also how the students grow through the experience. "Students are mostly used to communicating with professors, but here they have to communicate with their clients, their clients' therapists, and each other."
While Rice stays busy in his own lab--his most recent project has been the develop-ment of a special drinking cup for people inflicted with dysphasia (difficulty in swallowing)--he prefers to talk about his students.
"I think it is an honor and a privilege working with these students. They are bright, motivated and committed. We aren't doing anything fancy here. We are doing what we think is appropriate."
Nick Marinello can be reached at email@example.com.
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