Thirty University of Central Florida students who are earning their degrees on Saturday have one very special bond: They all created bionic arms for children in their spare time while attending the university.
The students are members of the UCF-based nonprofit Limbitless Solutions. Together they are earning 29 bachelor degrees in a variety of disciplines from engineering to digital media, and founder Albert Manero is earning his doctorate in mechanical engineering.
The soon-to-be graduates are part of an organization that continues to grow each semester, and together they’ve accomplished more and more since launching in 2014. They’ve designed, created and delivered 20 bionic arms for children in Florida, Washington, New York, Texas, Brazil, New Zealand and other places, changing their lives forever. Limbitless has a waiting list that continues to grow as new families hear of their work. Their efforts have garnered international attention from the likes of actor Robert Downey Jr., Microsoft and media companies from the U.S. to Russia, China, Europe and Latin America.
“It’s amazing,” Manero said. “It all started when a local family asked for help for their son who was born with part of his arm missing. We started out just at my kitchen table and had no idea it would grow and change so many lives. We’ve not only helped children imagine a future with no limits, but each of us has learned something beyond engineering. We’ve learned that what we do every day does matter and can make a difference. I’ve never been more proud of the work they’ve done, and what we can accomplish together.”
At least nine of the graduates have already accepted jobs from companies such as Lockheed Martin, Galatea Associates and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Others have been admitted to graduate degree programs, and now several more are weighing job offers from companies such as Momentum Worldwide, Northrop Grumman, Chewy, Lenovo, Boston Whaler, IBM and Siemens Energy.
They all consider the time they volunteered with Limbitless in various roles as an invaluable experience and an inspiration.
“My experience with Limbitless Solutions provided me insight on how to be an efficient leader in a team environment and the difficulties that come with making sure that everything works,” said Daniel Reveron who is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and electrical engineering. “It is a challenging task getting people to agree on things but thankfully I was able to unite my team and I am certain that this will provide me with an advantage at my new job.”
He will be working at Lockheed Martin as a system engineer and expects to gain a lot of experience before eventually fulfilling his dream.
“I want to start a company where people from different backgrounds can come together to develop technologies that improve the world we live in and make it a better place for future generations,” he said.
As a first-generation student, he is passionate about making a difference in the world as a way of showing his family that their sacrifice to send him to college was worth it.
“When I was 8 years old, my father passed away and my mother had to work day and night to provide for me and my brother,” he said. “She had to take on the role of both mother and father and at the same time remain strong through it all.”
Years later, his stepfather would also encourage and support Reveron through his college journey.
For fellow graduate Lietsel Richardson, Limbitless has inspired her to pursue graduate school. She already knew she wanted to use her engineering skills to improve lives, but working with the team and seeing the children’s reaction to the arms solidified that desire.
“My wish is to work for a research institution so that I may be on the forefront of research and development in the field of assistive medical devices,” said Richardson, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “One of my lifelong goals is to develop state-of-the-art and affordable medical devices for those with neuromuscular disabilities. I also hope to start a foundation comprised of professionals that would introduce girls and women around the globe to the STEM field and inspire them to dream big.”
Like Reveron, she too is a first-generation student and giving back is a way to make her parents proud. Her success is their success, she said.
Daniel Reveron, left in suit, at the Engineering Showcase.
For Carmen Henriquez, graduation will be bittersweet. She joined Limbitless in 2014 and worked alongside many of the original members, including alumnus John Sparkman, and was involved in some of the first delivery of arms to young children. She fell in love with the impact the group had on families and continued to volunteer her time even when she started an internship with NASA in 2015 that had her driving to the Space Coast every week.
Henriquez soon became the lead electronics developer and held meetings and workshops for new students interested in the electronics part of the project while working on the early development of the electronics for the first two arms.
“Limbitless and the people I met there helped me a lot,” she said. “I often remember advice John [Sparkman] gave me. He mentioned to me how easy it was to fail, but that that was OK. The important thing is to learn from that and continue to improve. It’s really good advice.”
She said she’ll miss working with the team and the families.
“Limbitless Solutions will always have a special place in my heart,” she said. “The kids, being so genuine, changed my college experience completely.”
She is weighing multiple job offers and considering pursuing a master’s degree because she hopes to someday work for a medical-device company that specializes in children.
Although 30 students are graduating, Limbitless will continue to accelerate their work. The group routinely adds up to 60 new members each semester as new students learn about its work. And there is always a core group of experienced students to help guide the new ones.
Earlier this month, Limbitless also became a Direct Support Organization of the university, giving it a closer affiliation with UCF. The new status provides the group a permanent home and will help maximize its impact by leveraging the size and excellence of the university to enhance access to disability technology and continuously improve STEM education.
Manero will stay on at the helm.
“I’m thrilled to be helping innovate future solutions and continue to make a difference in children’s lives,” Manero said. “The purpose of our education is to be able to make a difference. Here, we are making an impact that will continue to grow.”