Wheels Team

Wheels Team Members: 2014

Melanie Dittmer

I got involved with the Wheels project in the summer of 2013. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Rispin, I had been praying about joining the team. When she called to ask if I would submit an application, I took it as an answer to prayer.

Although my future career goals involve working with animals instead of people, I have discovered an incredible passion for this project and the work it involves.

Our research can make a difference in the lives of people who use wheelchairs, and specifically in the lives of the kids at Joytown Primary School in Kenya. I am overjoyed to be traveling to visit them this summer, and I look forward to all that God has in store.

Elisa Hamm

My name is Elisa Hamm, and I am majoring in kinesiology. I joined the wheels team because I have always desired to help those who are disabled. I anticipate that helping improve the design of wheelchairs will enrich the lives of many children in low-income countries. I also expect that the wheels team will provide me with valuable skills that I can use in my future career as an occupational therapist.

I have always wanted to be a pediatric OT, and I hope that the wheels team will help me to learn more about wheelchairs and prosthetics, particularly within the pediatric population. I am excited about this opportunity that God has provided and can’t wait to experience all that He has in store for me!

Sarah Crawford

I am studying Kinesiology, and I am currently on track to go to physical therapy graduate school. Since my freshman year, I have held leadership roles on campus, such a Peer Advisor and president of a pre-health professions club. I’ve been a Residential Assistant for two years and have thoroughly enjoyed helping the girls on campus.

Having lived in Romania with my missionary family, traveled in Japan shortly after the earthquake, and studied in Russia with my LeTourneau Eastern Orthodoxy class, I have been filled with compassion for people.

Using my degree to help those in third-world countries is something I have contemplated more in depth within the last year, but it has never been more than a dream up until now. This opportunity allows for hands-on experience of what I plan to do as a career. The chance to go to Kenya will give me a taste of both missions and service, a privilege I am grateful for.

Danielle Thiessen

My name is Danielle Thiessen, and I am a chemistry major from Houston, Texas. I am very passionate about serving the children of God, and I am pursuing a career in medicine as a primary care physician.

I joined Wheels because I desired to be involved in mission-oriented research. I wanted to experience the world of scientific research, yet also make a difference in the lives of the disabled.

I love that our main mission as a Christian research team is to spread the love of Christ through researching wheelchairs for low-income countries. I am so excited for this unique opportunity, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for Wheels this year!

Ben Jonah

I’m Ben Jonah, a Kinesiology Exercise Science student here at LeTourneau University from Edmonton, Canada. I am blessed with the opportunity to be a member on the Spring 2014 Wheels team, and Lord willing I will travel to Kenya this summer.

I hope to attend physical therapy school back home in Canada after graduation. The Wheels team is preparing me for my future studies and teaching me how to serve the Lord through them. The Wheels team is a unique experience for myself; it is an exciting challenge. The Wheels team is much different than other undergraduate classes.

Wheels is a collaboration with other students, faculty, and professionals in multiple fields. We are delegated certain tasks and expected to achieve those tasks on our own or with collaboration from others. Wheels is allowing me to gain valuable experience in my area of interest and teaching me to be able to glorify Gods kingdom through it.

Wheels doesn’t only challenge you academically, but also spiritually in your walk with Christ. With your support, through prayer or donations, I hope to travel to Kenya and use the new skills that Wheels has given me to glorify God's kingdom.

Luke Funk

I am a Biomedical Engineering major from Siloam Springs, Arkansas, planning to travel to Kenya with the Wheels team in May 2014. I am extremely excited for the opportunity to use my academic skills to serve the students at Joytown. I hope to share the love of Christ with them in a very tangible way during our time in Kenya.

I am considering entering medical device research as a career, and my work with the Wheels team so far has done nothing but confirm that desire. I hope to continue being involved in using technology to improve quality of life for people around the world in the future. Aside from Wheels, I enjoy spending time running with the LeTourneau cross country team and playing trombone in the jazz band.

Austin McCasland

I am a Kinesiology Major from Overton, TX. I love to be outside, exercise, and play nearly any sport. I have a driven personality, a desire to succeed, and an insatiable yearning to glorify God.

I joined the wheels team for two reasons: to use my God-given abilities to benefit the Wheels team and the people with disabilities in need of properly functioning wheelchairs, and to gain experience in working with people who have disabilities in a professional atmosphere.

I plan to attend physical therapy school after I graduate and work to become a physical therapist board certified in sports therapy. I am excited to see how God will use the Wheels team this year and hope we can be a blessing to many people through our research.

Wheels Team Members: Summer 2013

Emily Tutt

I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Kenya as part of the LeTourneau University Wheels Team and what an incredible trip it was. As a team of four students and our professor, Karen Rispin, we were able to experience a new culture, make international friendships, and conduct research in a tangible and meaningful way.

This trip introduced me to the intricate world of field research and taught me new ways to respond to challenges as both an individual and as a team. I not only learned about the process of research and interacting with friends in a new culture, I learned things about my own abilities and passions. I was motivated to more intensely consider my future with international travel and participation in the research community.

I really enjoyed the balance of hard work and research with unique opportunities to experience the beautiful nation of Kenya such as feeding giraffes, playing with chimpanzees, and observing a neurosurgery operation in a countryside Kenyan hospital. The Wheels 2013 Kenya Research trip was truly an experience of a lifetime, one I hope will continue to impact my future steps.

Matt Sturm

After spending only a month working with the children and the staff at Joytown, I left a much richer person. At Joytown I was given a clearer sense of where to find genuine joy in life, was blessed by a myriad of new friends to laugh and share life with, and was endowed with a greater appreciation for well developed wheelchairs.

The joy shared with me by the children and staff at Joytown clued me in once again to the ultimate source of real joy in life, the love of God. Also, through our research, I was presented with a chance to take on the compounded challenges of collecting data in a different country and culture.

In the end, I was deeply encouraged by the Bethany Kids Staff to live out Christ’s calling on my life-to serve others-as I saw them laying down their lives to do that very thing."

Anna McDonnel

I'm Anna McDonnel, a senior Interdisciplinary Studies major (Bio, Psych & History) and I'm so thankful I got to work on the Wheels team and go to Kenya for the summer of 2013.

Working on campus for the two semesters prior to the Kenya trip felt rich with things that I was learning about collaborative research writing and accountability to authority and my teammates. Going to Kenya, though, was the most exciting part of the project, where we completed more studies, got a better understanding of the research's context, and got to encourage and have fun with the kids at Joytown Primary and Secondary Schools who are wheelchair users.

Aspects of the project were very difficult at times, but I feel like I grew a lot and I can honestly say that I am sad to leave it behind; I am so thankful that I got to be a part of this unique opportunity to make a difference through research.

Nicole Leman

My name is Nicole Leman. After graduating from LETU in May 2013, I got to travel with the Wheels team to Kenya! The Wheels project gave me a great outlet to put to good use the knowledge and skills I had developed as an undergraduate kinesiology student.

Through the pre-trip efforts of collecting research on campus, writing and submitting journal articles, and presenting research before experienced professionals in the health science field, I believe I was well prepared for the trip to Kenya. The research of assistive devices I was involved in was relevant to my interest in physical therapy, which I plan to pursue someday.

I am so thankful I joined the Wheels team—I look back on building great relationships with my teammates, getting to know the children and staff of Joytown, and making a difference in the lives of handicapped children (especially in Kenya) through the data collection skills I had developed, as extremely valuable experiences that have molded my dreams and passions for the future.

Wheels Team Members: Summer 2012

Vanessa Parra

I am a pre-physical therapy student from West Texas who traveled to Kenya with the Wheels team in the summer of 2012. Working on the Wheels team has been an eye-opening experience, broadening my knowledge of the issues in third world countries. I have gained experience with teamwork and learning how to set priorities academically and spiritually. Meeting the children in person after all the hard work from the past two semesters was the best reward God could have given me.

Playing with the children and seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter was the best part of the day over in Joytown. I was able to work firsthand with the physical therapists there and the children, which just confirmed that I am on the right path with my studies. We were able to fulfill the research we needed to give effective feedback on maintenance, design and condition to generous wheelchair providers. Joining the Wheels team has been one of the best investments I have made, because I have learned extraordinary lessons.

Stormie Goodwin

Hello, my name is Stormie Goodwin. I am a chemistry student with the aspiration to attend medical school. I am planning to graduate from LeTourneau in the spring of 2015. Being a member of the Wheels team has offered a unique experience of bringing together research and ministry. Having the opportunity to integrate God’s work into research is amazing! In the summer of 2012 God blessed me with an amazing trip to Kenya with the Wheels team to study energy cost of pediatric wheelchairs and to verify the use of a questionnaire with children in wheelchairs. It was such a blessing working with the staff and children at Joytown in Thika, Kenya.

In addition to the valuable knowledge we gained from our research, we also learned what it looks like to truly serve others from observing the staff and children at Joytown. While in Kenya, we also had the opportunity to observe physical therapists and surgeons at work, tackling medical conditions we don’t often see in the States. It was an educational and spiritual experience. It was really neat to see firsthand the positive impact the Wheels team and its partners are making in Kenya for children in pediatric wheelchairs.

Kristen Huff

I’m a junior pre-PT biology student. I am from Houston, Texas, and I traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2012. After hearing so much from other students who have been a part of the project, it was an eye-opener to actually travel to Joytown and spend time there myself. The first day we toured Joytown, I had such a conflicting mixture of emotions that I couldn’t even respond to it. The absolute happiness that those beautiful children tackle every day with baffled me and made me feel even more privileged to be there and try to help them to have a better life in some small way.

I was able to work with therapists and other health professionals during the trip who offered a wealth of information pertaining to the degree I am pursuing. I made friends I will never forget and learned lessons in Kenya that will last a lifetime. It is my hope that one day I will be able to go back again and impact even more lives. In the meantime, I will continue to work toward my degree so that I can become as effective as possible in service.

Alex Ott Soliz

My name is Alex Soliz, and I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya as a part of the Wheels team. It was so exciting to finally see the fruits of all our hard work and research over the months in the hundreds of smiling faces at Joytown Primary School. Not only did we get the chance to talk to the children about their wheelchairs and help them get better ones in the future, we got to play with them and laugh with them and make memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

This research project is so much bigger than a few data runs. It's impacting the lives of children around the world, as well as the LETU students who are blessed to be able to work with them.

Kyle DeVries

I’m a mechanical engineering student from Southwest Michigan who traveled with Wheels to Kenya in May of 2012. Working with Wheels has given me some of the greatest memories in my life so far. Traveling to Kenya showed me that culture has everything to do with how you live your life. The culture in Kenya was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I found that after some struggling, I could meld right in with the local community. Work was very demanding. Other than sleeping and eating, it was work, work, work — and I loved it.

We accomplished so much and helped so many children. In return, the children that I worked with taught me how to be happy with where I am and to be grateful with what I have. Most of the work I did while at Joytown was fixing broken or damaged wheelchairs that the children were using and to insure mechanical safety for the data collection process. I have been deeply blessed by this experience and have found greater enjoyment in all of my work because of this opportunity.

Jill Brady

I’m a pre-physical therapy / kinesiology student from Nebraska who traveled to Kenya in the summer of 2012. Through the I team, God gave me numerous opportunities! I learned how to implement research by writing scientific papers, conducting data runs, utilizing computer programs and analyzing data. Once in Kenya, I got to see firsthand how the research was benefitting the children from Joytown Primary School. It is amazing how one wheelchair can really make a difference in a child’s everyday life.

Not only did we have the chance to shadow physical therapists at Joytown, but we also got to observe surgeries and tour the mission hospital in Kijabe. I will never forget the wonderful experiences I had in Kenya, and am excited to apply what I learned from the Wheels project to my future schooling and career.

Wheels Team Members: Summer 2011

Sam Nemati

I’m a pre-med student from California who traveled with Wheels in the summer of 2011. The Wheels project gave me an incredible opportunity to go to an emerging country, learn to serve people there medically, and use the tools God built into me to serve Him with in a whole new way. However, our trip to Kenya was not fun and games – it was perhaps the hardest three weeks of my life. I had learn how to cope with the foreign culture, quickly get as much data collected as possible, and to simply love children from backgrounds I don’t have. But fun things happened on top of collecting data for our study; I got to shadow medical missionaries in hospitals, physical therapists fit children to their assistive devices, and actually learn what it is like to be a medical missionary.

All our data is currently in process of being published; which is very exciting as well, since we get to become more and more a part of the global scientific community seeking to help improve medical needs of people in less-resourced settings. Overall, this trip taught me to give my all to a cause greater than myself, and to submit to doing things that could truly create a global impact to children worldwide. 

Taylor Geyman

I am a pre-dental/biology major from Northern Idaho who traveled with Wheels in the summer of 2011. Working on the Wheels team taught me important time management skills, the value of collaborating with other people, and the importance of communication. Travel to Kenya in the summer of 2011 opened my eyes to the vast need for healthcare in underdeveloped countries and the endless opportunities to fill the need.

While in Kenya, I was able to observe health professionals exemplify professional and compassionate healthcare in an underserved area of the world. The children at Joytown taught me compassion and joy by their interaction with one another, and I was blessed to be able to be a part of their lives and to be a part of what God is doing through the Wheels Project.

Wheels Team Members: Summer 2010

Elizabeth Richardson

I’m a pre-nursing student from Alaska who traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2010. Being a part of the Wheels team was a very influential experience in my life. Not only did I gain valuable academic experience as far as research is concerned, but I also learned about the needs of people around the world. Through my work on the Wheels team, I was blessed with the opportunity to offer assistance and love to children and adults in need of something I take for granted every day – mobility.

This experience broadened my view of what needs have been left unmet around the world, while at the same time allowing me to personally play a role in beginning to meet one of those needs. I will treasure my time with Wheels, especially the time spent working in Kenya, for the rest of my life!

Rachel Follingstad

I’m a student in the doctorate of Physical Therapy graduate program at Texas Women’s University who traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2010. As I look back on my Wheels experience I see what a defining impact it has had on many aspects of my life. From an educational point of view it has taught me the process of and importance of research. All medical fields are currently changing to practicing in an evidence based manner, and this has prepared me well as I start on my journey to becoming a physical therapist. The Wheels experience also set me apart as I interviewed at different physical therapy schools. There is limited research that can be carried out pertaining to PT at the undergraduate level, and this project was perfect for that.

The Wheels experience also helped me grow as a person. It challenged me in different ways to trust fully in God and do my best, but also to realize and trust that He is in control and will provide when there seems to be no possible way. Wheels also helped to fan the flame of my passion to work overseas and use physical therapy for those who need it desperately in third world countries. I am sure there are many benefits I am yet to realize, I know that it has prepared me very well for whatever God has planned. I am very thankful for the Wheels team, and though it was a challenge, it was a challenge that was more than worth it.