Friday, October 30, 2020

Dr. Mac Makes a Mark at MIA ‘Go Baby Go’ Coming to Town? Harrison’s Big Day


A beaming Baby Harrison, with one of Mercer engineering students, reacts to the attention he is getting as he looks at his new car.

A beaming Baby Harrison, with one of Mercer engineering students, reacts to the attention he is getting as he looks at his new car.

Can you imagine infants with missing arms or legs happily whizzing around Southwest Florida sidewalks in their own personalized battery operated miniature cars? If MIA board chairman, Jane Watt, has anything to say about it (and she does), the engineering students at Marco Island Academy will soon be turning out such cars for such kids. On March 7, Dr. Mac came to MIA to tell a select group of students how it could be done. He was scheduled for a 20-minute address, but held the students in thrall for twice that long.

Harrison seems bemused after being placed in his Pixar for the first time.

Harrison seems bemused after being placed in his Pixar for the first time.

Philip T. McCreanor, PhD (who prefers Dr. Mac), is the Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Engineering Scholars Track of the Honors Program, at Mercer University in Macon, GA. He is also the son of Terry and Andrea McCreanor, Marco Island residents who are long time benefactors of MIA. They too were in the audience. Dr. Mac had quite a story to tell and told it with the enthusiasm of a true believer. The students loved it.

Guided by a Mercer engineering student, Harrison takes his first whack at driving the Pixar.

Guided by a Mercer engineering student, Harrison takes his first whack at driving the Pixar.

“Go Baby Go,” he said, “is a national program which allows engineering students to retrofit a small motorized car for special needs children. The students identify a child in the community and make the car specific to his or her needs.” Mercer U. has been affiliated with the program since 2016 and has provided these special cars to numerous kids in Georgia. Oregon State and the University of Delaware are doing the same in their areas. The cars are provided to the parents of the child at no cost. Schools adopting the program as local affiliates, Dr. Mac later told me, would have to organize and fund the program themselves. Mercer University would provide the cars and any necessary technical support. He typically estimates a cost to participating schools of $350 per vehicle which includes materials for the build. “The upside is that GBG events are very easy events to raise funds for,” he said.

At Mercer University, “Baby” Harrison is fascinated with the plastic model of the miniature car which will be built for him. He loves cars, trucks and trains. Born with no arms and suffering from scoliosis, Harrison can speak in full sentences and was able to voice his delight at the little car which will open new doors for him. Submitted Photos

At Mercer University, “Baby” Harrison is fascinated with the plastic model of the miniature car which will be built for him. He loves cars, trucks and trains. Born with no arms and suffering from scoliosis, Harrison can speak in full sentences and was able to voice his delight at the little car which will open new doors for him. Submitted Photos

Dr. Mac brought along the two miniature car models, which Mercer would provide. One was the “Pixar” model for the younger kids and the slightly larger “Maserati” for the older ones. When it came time for the students to take a closer look, the Maserati got most of the attention, especially among the guys. It was the Pixar model however, which was central to the most memorable and heart-warming project for Dr. Mack and his Mercer engineering students.

Harrison’s big day: Harrison’s family, upper left, along with Mercer engineering students and faculty who retrofitted the car, pose for photo with their star pupil, after a luncheon and presentation ceremony in Harrison’s honor. Dr. Mac is at upper right.

Harrison’s big day: Harrison’s family, upper left, along with Mercer engineering students and faculty who retrofitted the car, pose for photo with their star pupil, after a luncheon and presentation ceremony in Harrison’s honor. Dr. Mac is at upper right.

“Baby” Harrison, was a 19-pound, blond, blue eyed 2-year-old, with a ready smile and Gerber Baby looks. Harrison was born without arms and suffers from scoliosis. Although 23 inches tall, he had only four-inch inseams. That meant his malformed legs would be too short to reach the foot controls. This presented new problems in retrofitting a car for him, but the Mercer students were captivated by this youngster and his parents. They decided to overcome the obstacles and get Harrison into a Pixar.

Dr. Mac opened his MIA presentation with the statement that the GBG program would enable severely disabled children to get out of the house and into the world… under their own power. Within a week of taking the project on, the Mercer students did exactly that. On the Saturday, after a week of preparations, Harrison’s parents brought him in to Mercer, for a final fitting and last minute adjustments. This included a trial run for Harrison outside. At a later luncheon, celebrating the event, Harrison got his car.

There were 15 MIA students selected to sit in on Dr. Mac’s presentation. “We chose three seniors who have been trailblazers within our STEM program on campus,” said Assistant Principal, Amber Richardson. “We then chose 9th, 10th, and 11th graders who have an affinity for STEM and loving hearts who might be inspired to participate in this program on our campus in the future.” Tellingly, six of the 15 were freshmen. They, along with the others, seemed excited and moved by what the program could do for infants like Harrison.

Freshman, Kirra Polley, is a top student and star goalie with MIA’s record breaking girls soccer team. She was impressed with the way Dr. Mac and his students never let the children down, despite the difficulties involved “We have many students that are interested in robotics, engineering and helping others for the greater good,” she said, “I would absolutely be interested in being a member of the Go Baby Go program. It’s a great way to help the children and people in the community.”

Freshman, Johnny Watt, also a top student and a star of MIA’s basketball team, was also impressed with Dr. Mac’s presentation. This is a wonderful idea, he said, as it gives MIA another way to help our community and at the same time, bring smiles to children’s’ faces. Johnny says he enjoys engineering and would “most definitely” be interested in participating in the GBG program. “This seems like a fun, helpful way to combine my love of young children and engineering” he said, “In my opinion, the most impressive part of the presentation was the quick thinking of the engineers working on the cars when [seemingly insurmountable problems arose].” Johnny would relish being a part of that.

And so, when in the course of the next school year, you see a grinning child on an outing with his parents, powering himself down the sidewalk in a miniature Pixar or Maserati, you’ll know where it came from.

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