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An inspiring STEM student in his own right, Albert Manero, PhD, is inspiring other STEM students through his work and internship program. Albert took what started in his high school PLTW Engineering classes and turned it into several advanced degrees and a nonprofit organization, Limbitless Solutions. He then “paid it forward” and built an internship program which employs multiple PLTW alumni.

When Spencer Smith took a chance and applied at a job in a building that backed up to his apartment, he had no idea how being at the right place at the right time with early exposure to trade and transferable skills would transform his future. Spencer is one of three PLTW alumni who are currently taking part in an internship at the University of Central Florida hosted by Limbitless Solutions.

Limbitless Solutions co-founder, Albert Manero, PhD, knows the value of a PLTW educational background. He first discovered his own passion for engineering and the design process in a PLTW Engineering classroom in 2003. After earning multiple advanced engineering degrees, Albert applied his passion for design to prosthetics. He and his co-founders built Limbitless Solutions, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides prosthetics to youth at no cost to the families. “Limbitless is an engineering innovation nonprofit, and our goal is to make bionics that are both artistically expressive as well as really, really functional and be able to deliver them to families at no financial burden to them through our clinical research,” Albert said.

Albert and Spencer, along with colleagues Katharine Tran and Bradley River, have one foundational piece in common — they all participated in PLTW courses in high school.

“In our program, we have several Project Lead The Way alumni who got early experience into what they could be as an engineer. When they come to Limitless [Solutions], they get to put those skills into application while they’re learning in the classroom,” Albert said.

According to The impact of Applied Learning study conducted by the one8 Foundation and PLTW, students who partake in STEM courses that allow them the opportunity to work on projects they would encounter in their careers or in the real world could be better prepared to excel in higher education and career. The study also indicated that seventy percent of students believe that PLTW classes help in other areas they want to study further. “My exposure to STEM at a younger age really helped me with my problem solving [skills], just thinking through problems, being able to break them down, and then building them back up.” Bradley said.

“I think Project Lead The Way definitely implemented a mindset early on,” Katherine Tran.

Collaboration Makes an Impact

“It was very much project-based and collaborative, and I think those were characteristics that Albert and I share,” Katharine said. “That class helped me immerse myself in Limbitless Solutions and collaborating with others.”

Spencer said, “I think there were a lot of things that I learned in Project Lead The Way that are definitely applicable to the real world. It’s interesting enough that as a freshman or sophomore you’re taking a class that’s teaching you these advanced skills, because not many adults know how to use Fusion 360 for example, or CAD software in general.”

What makes the Limbitless Solutions program at the University of Central Florida so impactful? It’s the blending of a coaching mentality and an interdisciplinary approach that fuels the innovative team.

Albert is passionate about the opportunities his PLTW classes provided him and the hands-on immersive experience that gave him a head start in developing his skills. Keith Arnold and Paul Wahnish, Albert’s PLTW Engineering teachers at East Lake High School in Florida, created a non-traditional learning environment based on a coaching mindset.

“I love that it was taught with that coaching mindset, because there’s so much we’ve taken away from that here at [Limbitless Solutions] where you really can’t do it for the student, you have to coach it out of them, and [then they] discover they have it in them all along,” Albert said. “They have those design skills. If you give them the right environment and the right tools and resources, and you just shake everyone up, hopefully something great comes out of it.”

The internship program at Limbitless Solutions doesn’t focus exclusively on engineers, but instead welcomes creatives from a variety of fields. “It is an incredible experience and environment [when you can] look around and [see] 40 undergraduate students that are now all working on this project with us.” Albert started, “They come from different backgrounds, [there are] engineers, game designers, [those focused to] fine and digital arts, as well as business. [We even have] pre-med [students that enable us] to create this interdisciplinary creative zone. That is what goes into the arms to make them beautiful and functional.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the program also paves the way for Albert and his team to create supportive training opportunities and innovative applications to enable the use of the prosthetics from afar. “I think that that has enabled us to be able to bring out the best parts of everyone’s creativity and ultimately see it benefit our community.”

K-12 opportunities focused on building and strengthening STEM skills and career readiness provided a foundation for Albert, Spencer, Katherine, and Bradley. It gave them an awareness to the affect they could have, the roles they could play in their communities, and the advancements they could make in their selected fields.

Joining the program and working alongside team members at Limbitless Solutions also gave Spencer, Katharine, and Bradley an opportunity to implement that foundational PLTW experience, work in a collaborative setting, and solve real-world problems.

Project Lead the Way

“[Katherine, Bradley, and Spencer] are passionate and ready to learn. Having the exposure to PLTW early in their academic career can help them develop their design skills and propel them forward.” Albert said.

Albert first learned that some of his interns shared his PLTW experience because they asked if they could participate in panel discussions at their alma maters. “It was really exciting to see them take their knowledge to inspire younger students,” Albert said.

Albert and his team at Limbitless Solutions discovered that the PLTW alumni arrived in the program with skills that their non-PLTW peers lacked. “PLTW alumni arrive at the university with experience in a 3D CAD software, such as Autodesk, which can help accelerate their onboarding. Being familiar with design principles can also accelerate you through the learning curve.” Albert said.

Limbitless Solutions hopes to expand its internship opportunities to other universities in the coming years. In the meantime, they continue to deliver on their mission of empowering confidence and increasing accessibility in the limb difference community through art-infused bionics.