students in lab

Bioengineering major Ciara O'Donohoe called it a "Grammy moment," when her team's senior design project earned top honors at the Fox School of Business "Be Your Own Boss Bowl."

The project sought to improve upon the design for the Headmaster Collar, a neck brace that supports individuals with dropped head syndrome. The team—O'Donohoe, Grace Buckwalter, Elena Paoli, Lucy Eppert and Rachel Gouveia—are in the end stages of their design after being connected with a sponsor through the Temple University Prosthetics and Orthotics student professional organization. 

They started working on the Comfortable Head Assistive Temporomandibular Brace last semester looking to replace the current version, which isn't meant specifically for people with the rare disease and is simply "poorly designed," Buckwalter said.

Knowing the sponsor needed a better brace, the team was determined to create a sustainable option that will hold up a human head with enough stability. This entailed many redesigns and adjustments.

"We've changed the iteration like 100 times because we've changed the priority 100 times," O'Donohoe said.

The CHAT Brace is an easily removable brace that sits over the user's shoulders. It has a bar with dispersed pressure sitting on his chest and another movable bar under his chin that holds his head in place. They plan to potentially use foam to help lessen pressure on his chest and chin. 

Currently, mobility is a key factor in the design. Many braces are immobile, so having the option to adjust head position would make everyday life easier for the user.

"It keeps their head up and it allows them to move their head up and down while they are walking," Buckwalter said. "If you need to look down a little bit or if you're talking to family, you can look up." 

One focus for many senior design teams is taking into account the needs of the project sponsor, who often acts as a client for the team. In this instance, the team designed a manual option per the sponsor's request, which wasn't the easiest task.

"In engineering classes, we're so used to using these cool electronics to do these fun things, but he just didn't want that and obviously you have to make something for him to use," Buckwalter said. "That was something that we had to adapt to."

The team spent countless hours refining the design in Solidworks, adjusting and testing the digital brace with simulations. Some iterations have been brought to life by the 3-D printer in the IDEAS Hub, where they spend much of their time.

The CHAT Brace is completely customized to the sponsor's measurements to ensure the outcome is as comfortable as possible. However, the team does have hopes to eventually manufacture the brace on a larger scale with sizing options—and they already have the means to get started, thanks to the $20,000 prize on top of $12,000 towards lawyer fees and accounting for winning the Be Your Own Boss Bowl. 

They also took away new business skills that they weren't as familiar with as engineering majors and learned how to productively work with each other from participating in the Be Your Own Boss Bowl. It was a chance to take their innovation and develop it in an entirely new way.

"It definitely helped us with our budget and it also helped with teamwork," Buckwalter said.

They learned what to expect moving forward when their pool of customers eventually expands. 

"It's also about reaching out and making sure you understand your customer, so just going out and trying to speak to not just one person who has had DHS, but a large group so that you can actually understand that you're making the correct design was really interesting," O'Donohoe said.

As the team looks toward competing against other senior design projects later this month, their design is already bound to have an impact for people with dropped head syndrome.

See all of this semester's teams at