By Samantha Ebner (Social Media Editor)

For Mitzpeh


Shoshana Distenfeld poses by the water in Annapolis. (Stephanie Deichman/Mitzpeh)

In pursuit of making a difference, sophomore bioengineering major Shoshana Distenfeld has resurrected the Tikkun Olam Makers club at this university. Tikkun Olam Makers is a movement on college campuses around the world where talented students come together to design solutions to real-world problems at a lower cost. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew term for improving the world. 

Two students started a chapter of TOM at this university in the fall of 2019. However, the club never came to fruition because campus was closed shortly thereafter due to the pandemic. Distenfeld reopened and expanded the club this school year.

A friend recommended that Distenfeld join TOM’s fellowship and start a community on campus this year. The fellowship runs every academic year, so Distenfeld’s participation in the program began in September and will end this month. One to two times each month, students meet over Zoom to participate in workshops, listen to speakers and learn about human-centered design. Simultaneous to her involvement in the fellowships, Distenfeld was paired with a TOM representative to bring the organization to this campus.

“UMD is a huge campus with an insane amount of resources whether it be talent, makerspaces, tools and training, professors with expertise or just a community desire to help those around you,” Distenfeld said. “So to me it seemed like the perfect place to start a TOM community.”

The goal of TOM’s expansion on college campuses is to find communities that may be struggling across the world and design affordable solutions for them. The organization places people who have first-hand knowledge of a problem in communication with college students to create a solution. The UMD chapter is currently working on a 3D-printed device built to sit on top of screwable lids to help people with severe arthritis open jars and other lids. The club is working with a woman who has severe arthritis, and they have almost completed the project.

“[The design is] inspired by the shape of the easy-to-open arthritis Advil cap, and the cool part about the device is that the inside contains what’s called an iris diaphragm to make it adjustable and fit on different sized caps and lids,” Distenfeld explained. “As you rotate the diaphragm, it contracts until it’s gripped the cap, and then the rest of the rotation is translated into leverage to help open the lid.”

Despite the complexity of the tasks, the club can be beneficial for anyone. The club currently has five members: two bioengineering majors, one mechanical engineering, one criminal justice, and one business major. Every person works on different aspects of the project that contribute to the overall goal. The engineers focus on the actual project while the non-engineers handle assembly instructions, lists of necessary tools, financials, recruitment, scheduling and fundraising.

“It’s awesome that nearly half our club aren’t even in the engineering school,” Distenfeld remarked. “TOM is a club for anyone, whether they be interested in design or problem solving, or if they just want to be involved with such an amazing organization. We have a bunch of positions available that have nothing to do with engineering.” 

Meetings are held once a week to track the group’s progress. There is an additional meeting each week for the engineers in the club to work on their project in the Singh Sandbox lab in Iribe. Distenfeld hopes to grow this club and spread the greatness of TOM in future years.

“Lofty future goals include hosting a Make-a-thon, which is a three day design sprint convention where teams of students pair up with needknowers to design working prototypes over the course of a weekend, and perhaps working with certain engineering departments to incorporate TOM projects into students’ capstones,” said Distenfeld.

To learn more about Tikkun Olam Makers and their goal, click here.


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