Jodi Prosise would have been satisfied to return to St. Ambrose last week with nothing more than a keen sense of pride in the inspirational and empowering work being done by women across the state of Iowa.
The trophy she brought home from the fifth annual Women of Innovation Awards sponsored by the Technology Association of Iowa on Nov. 15 in Des Moines was, however, a very nice bonus.
"It's a pretty cool trophy," the St. Ambrose assistant professor of engineering said of her reward for being selected winner in the Academic Innovation and Leadership in Post-Secondary Education division.
The fourth-year SAU faculty member was selected over a field of six other finalists including one instructor from the University of Northern Iowa and three from her undergraduate alma mater, Iowa State.
"I was shocked actually, very shocked, but excited," she said. "I was able to get the word out that St. Ambrose is here and we have engineering."
Prosise was honored for a program she initiated to help her students find adaptive technology solutions for the underprivileged.
Among numerous success stories from the Program for Assistive Technologies for the Underprivileged which Prosise helped launch in 2011:
• Students solved a workplace challenge at the Handicapped Development Center in Davenport, where clients in different-sized wheelchairs were unable to work side-by-side without assistance. Prosise's students devised worktables whose heights could be adjusted by the clients themselves with a hydraulic foot pump.
• A young girl with Cerebral Palsy only was able to move her eyes and eyelids. Students devised a way for her to communicate via a message board containing icons she could activate via a blink of an eye, thereby communicating with her mother.
• For a quadruple amputee in an impoverished region of Brazil, students devised as pair of low cost prosthetic arms that allowed the man to feed himself.
The projects were conducted in coordination with the St. Ambrose Occupational Therapy Department and Professor Christine Urish, PhD, and Instructor Jon Turnquist '92, '10 MOL. Sweet Briar College in Virginia also was a partner.
Engineering Department Chairman Michael Opar, PhD, said Prosise's award reinforces the great work she is doing in incorporating adaptive technology and mechanical engineering into the St. Ambrose curriculum.
Prosise earned her doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 2010 and Opar said that background made her a strong candidate to partner engineering with St. Ambrose's expanding health science programs.
"With her skills, her interests and her education, she has really helped build our mechanical engineering program, with the focus on assistive technologies," Opar said, noting the latter helps the program fit the university mission. "We can say really clearly mechanical engineering belongs at St. Ambrose because of the work our mechanical engineering students do to help people out."
Judges in Des Moines also recognized Prosise's work in helping to develop the undergraduate Summer Research Institute at St. Ambrose.
Although certainly proud of the programs and particularly of her St. Ambrose students, Prosise said, "It was cool to see all the innovation that is going on in Iowa. It was so amazing, all these women who have done great things."
Prosise said she was particularly impressed by a woman who abandoned a career as an entrepreneur in order to launch a non-profit organization that will provide impoverished mothers in Iowa everything they will need to care for a baby through a child's first year free of charge.
Most of the Women of Innovation program was focused on achievements in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) sector and encouraging girls and young women to enter that field.
That is an initiative very close to Prosise's own heart. She annually organizes "Girls Night Out" at the Rogalski Center. The event is geared to encourage girls in high school and community college to follow their instincts and pursue STEM careers.