Friday, June 28, 2013

Incredible Campers: Battle Bots

Robots... we've all dreamed of having our own at one time - preferably the kind that can compact itself into a cool car (Admit it - you know it's true). Well, for some of the kids attending our LETU summer camps this week, robots are a reality.

Led by camp director Janice Park, who has been teaching robotics at the middle school and high school level for years, the kids in the Battle Bots class were provided with some basic components for a robot. They then used their creativity to design and build battle components onto their bots and come up with their very own fighting machines.

Throughout the week, they took part in small competitions, picking up points for victories that they could use to "buy" more components for their bots. On the last day of camp, the campers pitted their bots against each other in a round-robin tournament. The photo to the right depicts the three-minute battle between the fearsome competitors "The Wall" and "Peanut Butter Killer."

While this camp was more geared towards building and battling, other robotics camps dug deeper into programming and design. Just like our LETU students, these kids are learning that science doesn't just happen inside the classroom - it happens wherever creativity, knowledge and a little bit of enthusiasm come together.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Incredible Students: Julia Bourcier

My name is Julia Bourcier, and I am honored to have this opportunity to represent many of the incredible people who have shared their lives with me. It is my hope that in telling my story, I may also honor theirs.

As Windridge's Program Director, I am one member of an incredible team that makes Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center of East Texas, Inc., all it is today. Windridge was founded in 1989 to serve children and adults who have disabilities through therapeutic horsemanship programs. Windridge combines a unique, effective form of therapy with caring staff to provide an environment that challenges everyone and cares for people physically, mentally and emotionally.

Windridge cannot provide perfect healing, but sometimes the impossible does seem to happen. Often, in the rider's success, the people around them also find a measure of hope. The horse's movement helps with processing, communication and interaction because the rhythmic gait helps the body set a tempo for its own systems. Often for riders with disabilities such as ADHD or Autism, these normal systemic rhythms have lost a consistent tempo which interferes with understanding, learning and language.

Riding a horse may encourage riders to speak or accomplish other, seemingly unrelated goals because the interference from misfiring nerves has been reduced. For example, one four-year-old boy said "Mom" to his mother for the very first time this Mother's Day. Since infancy, this child has struggled to interact with others, even his own parents. He babbled, but there had been no discernable language. The first time he had actually attempted to say "Mom" was on the back of his horse just days before. As you might imagine, calling his mother by name was a greater gift than anything money could buy.

Another child walked across Windridge's parking area holding her father's hand. When she was born, doctors offered no assurance that she would be able to walk. It has taken much work and many years for her to reach this goal, but today she walks. The horse has helped her reach this accomplishment because its natural movement stimulates the rider's body in the exact patterns of movement for walking. So, while a person is sitting astride the horse, they are responding with the same muscles, body posture and response against gravity that is required to take those first steps.

Windridge staff has been awed over the years to be a part of many such stories. Seeing changes in people and the hope that a simple possibility can bring has also brightened our lives. Our children and our families have helped us see God in a more perfect light. They have shared with us deep sorrow and great joy. We are honored to have been able to share these journeys. (For more information, look for us online at

I am also a student of LeTourneau University. I have been amazed at the servant hearts of the dedicated individuals I have met through this program. Through the course of my time in the program, I have seen both students and faculty demonstrate faith in God and a willingness to tackle difficult problems. The experienced faculty and faith based learning at LeTourneau University provide a foundation for education that is challenging and beneficial. I definitely would not have gained the thorough education I have today or the ability to apply this new knowledge without the faith, patience and dedication of the faculty.

I believe that the education I have received at LeTourneau University will provide a framework for future decisions and greater effectiveness as a Windridge employee. An organization is only as great as its people and the people are only as great as their willingness to learn. Windridge and its staff have constantly worked to provide an environment that encourages learning. The LeTourneau evening and online program made it possible for me gain an education that would otherwise have been difficult or impossible while also serving at Windridge. I am thankful for the combined opportunities of serving at a job I love and gaining the education I need to be effective.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Incredible Minds & Hearts: Wheels

Wide awake at 2am, sleepy at 6pm - jet lag is a summer rite of passage for many LETU students. It's an inconvenient reminder that the world isn't all that big - you were just on the other side of it. Our four LETU students on the Wheels team are still feeling that lag today.

On Monday, the group of biology and kinesiology students led by LETU biology professor Karen Rispin arrived back in Texas from their three-week stint in Kenya. For the past three years, the Wheels team has partnered with wheelchair manufacturers and with Bethany Kids in Joytown, Kenya. Every summer, a LeTourneau team is sent to conduct comparative testing of wheelchairs designed for use on rough terrain.

This year, the team tested the Whirlwind Rough Rider and the Motivation Rough Terrain wheelchairs, comparing them both to a standard hospital wheelchair many are forced to use when no better option is available.

"We collect data on the chairs, and the manufacturers look at the data and see how they can apply it," says Rispin. "The challenges are the same as here [in America], only a bit more difficult. People don't live on paved surfaces."

Nicole Leman, who graduated in May before leaving on the research trip, remarked, "I didn't realize the possibilities. They find a way to look out for each other despite their disabilities. It was really neat to realize that we really could have an impact."

At LETU, ministry is in everything we do. From testing wheelchairs in Kenya, to fixing airplanes in Alaska, to building wind-powered generators for use on the mission field, we know that when it comes to ministry, applying the skills our students learn in the classroom to changing lives is powerful. These opportunities, getting to work with disabled kids on the sandy terrain of Kenya, seemingly change our students as much as they bring change to the children of Kenya.