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ODU Students Create Holiday STEM Toys for Pediatric Patients

By Betsy Hnath

For the third consecutive year, Old Dominion University industrial technology students in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies will use their classroom experience to make the holidays a little brighter for children.

But this year they've expanded the program.

The students will deliver about 60 toys they researched, designed and fabricated to patients in the Children's Cancer and Blood Disorder Center at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters.

And for the first time, another 60 toys will be delivered via U.S. Navy volunteers to the Henrico Health Department Refugee Clinic in Richmond where, on any given day, over 200 children receive treatment.

ODU is collaborating with the City of Norfolk to help assemble and package toys at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Maker's Space in the Slover Library. The toys will then be loaded onto Navy vehicles to be delivered to CHKD and the Henrico location.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander and University President John R. Broderick will be at the Slover Library for the sendoff.

"The city is happy to take part in Old Dominion University's annual holiday tradition. This tradition brings together the community and gives joy and cheer to our community's youngest residents, who are receiving cancer treatment," said Alexander.

Petros Katsioloudis, professor and chair of STEM education and professional studies, has led the semester-long MerMADE STEM TOYS4KIDS project each year. Basim Matrood, lecturer in the same department, has assisted the last two years.

The students created colorful puzzles for the youngest patients, three-dimensional puzzles for the middle age group and logic puzzles for older patients (up to age 22).

"It was important that our design could work for both boys and girls," sophomore Cameron Baum said.

To date, more than 300 toys have been fabricated and distributed to children throughout Hampton Roads via CHKD.

According to Katsioloudis, the project allows students to connect their academic work to the outside community, which speaks directly to Old Dominion University's service-learning mission.

"In all of our classes, students have to produce a final product, so why not make something that can make a change in somebody's life?" he said. "We see this every time we deliver the toys to the children. They are smiling, and even if it's only for a few minutes, we made their day."

"It's about giving back to the community. We are fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.'s statement 'Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.'"

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