At the “Design for All Showcase”, Stephanie Valderrama sat in the audience, watching attentively as Grace Mosier, a 15-year-old with scoliosis, wore a black dress and a white 3-D printed scoliosis brace.
Mosier stood comfortable in the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in her exclusively designed brace—assured in her stride as she walked the South Court Auditorium runway in September.
But the 15-year-old wasn’t the only person who Valderrama saw exhibiting this confidence at the showcase.
Smiles and a matter-of-fact attitude describes the other 14 who modeled the tailored designs for people like them with disabilities. There were 80 plus designers and engineers in attendance, including Valderrama who is the creative director for UCF's prosthetic arm non-profit, Limbitless-Solutions.
Due to the last minute invite, Valderrama, UCF student with the School of Visual Arts and Design, wasn’t able to display Limbitless’s designs, however she was inspired by the joy on the faces of people sporting the assistive technology and the willingness of the creators to meet their need.
After returning from the showcase, her goal was for Limbitless-Solutions to expand globally and outside the limits of what solutions they provide to children with disabilities.
“We continue to have projects that go beyond what we thought we could do almost every semester,” Valderrama said. “Eventually I would love it to be a lot easier to just go on our website, look at a catalogue, pick out what type of sleeve they want and have it done in a quicker fashion. Right now we’re working on those kinks, but we have our goals set.”
Valderrama began her journey as the creative director and social architect with Limbitless-Solutions after witnessing an 8-year-old boy named Alex receive an Iron Man-inspired arm and it inspired her to join the team.
“Finding out that boy got that arm from Iron Man and how big of a deal that was and knowing that students were behind that is something that moved me," Valderrama said. "I wanted to be a part of that because sometimes as college students we don’t feel like we’re empowered to do that yet and Limbitless-solutions is pushing that.”
Currently Limbitless is involved in an Indiegogo campaign focused on serving Syrian refugee children, which includes the creation of a waiting list to better assist those with prosthetic needs in the future. They’re also working on a leg project that is focused on other bio-technologies and eventually veteran prosthetic assistance for adults.
And when it comes to accomplishing these project and goals, co-founder and director of production of Limbitless, Dominique Courbin, believes that Valderrama plays an important role in expanding and developing Limbitless.
“Stephanie is integral in the designs,” Courbin said. “Steph in particular, being Hispanic, being a girl, she brings a unique perspective that sometimes we don’t always consider that perspective and it strengthens us.”
Part of the growth within the non-profit was adding art to the science, technology, engineering and math aspects of Limbitless. It made the team realize that the designs had to work and be beautiful.
When Limbitless began, they created arms that were fully functional, but lacked the necessary finesse when dealing with children of all genders, age ranges, wants and desires—now Valderrama serves as a strength in what was a creative weakness.
“We 100 percent realized the potential of making something work and be beautiful—just makes it so much easier for the kids to adopt,” Courbin said. “Having something be beautiful is what Steph does she exudes it from her pores she brings that ability to the team—she’s really good.”
One of Limbitless’s 3-D computer aided designers, electrical engineering major Thomas Villarreal, said Valderrama acts as the engineers' creative talent.
“She’s pretty much the whole eyes,” Villarreal said. “If we didn’t have her and it was all up to me it wouldn’t look nearly as good because as engineers.We don’t have that talent to make things look that pretty—we’re just concerned if it works or not.”
Valderrama’s mother was an architect in Bogota, Columbia and her father is a jewelry designer. With those family ties, she has the experience and understanding of what it means to dip her paint brush in both realms.
Limbitless has done work for fashion designers, cheerleaders and kids who enjoy everything from Star Wars to exuberant flowers. Valderrama says that the key for Limbitless to grow in design and reach is listening.
“I’ve learned that you have to listen to what they want because not everyone’s needs are the same,” Valderrama said. “And design is just that, where you can design something pretty, but it also has to function and have a purpose behind it and that’s what we do with Limbitless. We try to make every 3-D printed arm as unique as the child and not at all try to cover who they are.”
She sees the collaborative relationship between art and the rest of S.T.E.M involved with Limbitless as a pivotal part of their growth with the individuals they help.
“Combining S.T.E.M with art and creating S.T.E.A.M," Valderrama said. "We don’t want the bionic arms to just look like a plain slate. We encourage design and creativity in everything we do.”
Originally published Oct. 14, 2016.
Correction: This article was rewritten for clarification purposes on Oct. 25, 2016.