Scholarship Interview: Swetha, Ben, and Johnathan

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2021 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2022 program, click here”. 

Introducing our next scholarship winners: a group of three working together on the same project and splitting the scholarship winnings. Swetha Palakur, Johnathan Polucha, and Ben Kim. These three high school students worked together on a project for their engineering class, where they specifically needed to come up with a solution to a problem. 

They chose to create a keyboard specifically for persons with Parkinson’s Disease and other similar, neurodegenerative diseases. The reason for choosing this group of people specifically was for two different reasons, first that they realize what vital importance of using a computer is in this day and age and they recognized the struggles those with PD have using a typical keyboard. And second, they had close family members with Parkinson’s Disease, meaning this project hit close to home for them. 

After creating their first humble prototype made of cardboard, they were able to meet with the head neurologist at the University of California Irvine. She gave them great insight into how the minds and bodies of those with PD work, as well as some feedback on their prototype. One worry Ben, Swetha, and Johnathan had was that the keyboard would be too complicated to figure out, but she reassured them that it would be a great cognitive and problem-solving practice for the PD patients. 

After more teacher and peer feedback, more prototypes, and working out some wiring issues, they were able to create a functioning keyboard! Ben, Swetha, and Johnathon hope to someday patent their keyboards and spread them to Parkinson’s Disease patients all over. 

Ben is attending Princeton University, Swetha is attending the University of California, and Johnathan is attending Oregon State University.