Students in Casey Cowell's computer-aid design class at Waterloo High School are creative, to say the least. But, they also want their ideas to help people.

That's why Cowell challenged his students to use 'Autodesk' software and 3-D printing to design a product that improves the day-to-day life; specifically for someone struggling with hand mobility.

"The struggle that I had with gripping my pencil and holding it in writing and teachers were trying to give me all sorts of different kinds of 'grippies,'" said Abigail Baxter, now a 17-year-old junior at Waterloo High School.

What You Need To Know

  • Waterloo students were challenged to utilize 3-D printing to design a tool to improve the lives of those with hand mobility issues

  • Abigail Baxter, a junior at the high school, created "Gripper," a specialized tool to help young children hold onto and use writing utensils with more ease

  • Baxter says her design was inspired by her own struggles to write when she was younger

  • Baxter's design was entered into an international contest where she was ranked in the top four places in two categories

Baxter, who was a sophomore at time, used her own writing struggle to inspire her for the assignment. Months after a simple hand sketch, Baxter created her own '"Gripper," a tool for pencils to aid students with their own writing struggles.

Abigail's "Gripper" comes in different forms and is intended to be used however is most comfortable for its owner.

"This adds a little bit more support, for there to be more grip so they don't have to push down as hard.. and it doesn't hurt their fingers," described Baxter.

Baxter's design is not a "one-size-fits all;" making changes to the size and shape of "Gripper prototypes" to best fit a child's hand. She also created solid plastic and flexible designs, all while making sure pencils and pens would easily fit.

"Everybody always asks me, 'is this supposed to go this way or this way?' And the point of it is, it doesn't matter. It's supposed to go whichever way you want to make it better to hold," she said.

Inspired themselves, Cowell and other Waterloo faculty members encouraged Baxter to enter her design in the "International Make Able Challenge," which included submissions from over 17,000 students across more than 70 countries.

Abigail demonstrates how she uses a "Gripper."

"Abigail was one that just went above and beyond and was down here in between periods, during her study halls, her lunch and really took off with it," Cowell added.

Baxter's "Gripper" design placed in the top four of the "Best Inspirational Story" and "Best Showcase of Iterative Design" categories.

"Makers Making Changes has my design, so anybody can print this design," explained Baxter. "The biggest part about working with something like this is failing and trying again, because that's the only way you're gonna make it better."

Since her sucess reached an international platform, Baxter says teachers have submitted orders for the "Gripper" and about 300 have been made for younger students.