Wheels Team

Wheels Team Members: 2014


Austin McCasland

I cannot begin to describe the positive impact going to Kenya had on my life. Nev Schulman said, “Life experience is what defines our character.” I can say with complete confidence that my experiences in Kenya - the people, the way of life, the entire environment - have forever changed my perspective.


Ben Jonah

I had the privilege to join the LeTourneau Wheels team on their trip to Kenya to assist in research on wheel chairs; however, the trip was so much more than that. I was able to learn how I could use the education I’m getting at LeTourneau to glorify God’s kingdom.

I met so many fantastic people who have a heart for the children at JoyTown, worked with a team that was incredible through it all, and experienced a new culture. I saw the great need for the research we were doing upon arriving. Children in prosthetics would be pushing other children in a wheel chair up hills. I learned how to conduct research, interact with individuals from another culture, and so much about myself.

The children always had smiles on their faces and loved to laugh, especially when I attempted to speak Swahili! Interacting within another culture was an eye opening experience, which makes me want to do it again. I will go wherever the Lord takes me within Physical Therapy.

The Wheels Team, Bethany Kids staff, and all the children at JoyTown all showed me the joy in work and cultural experiences, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer.


Danielle Thiessen

My name is Danielle Thiessen, I am a pre-medical student majoring in biochemistry, and I had the most incredible experience working with the Wheels team in Thika, Kenya this summer.

I have never seen joy quite as prominent as the joy I saw in the children at JoyTown. I had the privilege of working with high school students to help validate the Lower Limb Function Questionnaire. The work was not easy, but I would not trade the day long data runs or late night data recordings for anything.

My favorite part of working with the students was hearing their stories and learning about their dreams and passions. Each student had ambitions, and I cannot help but smile when I consider the incredible blessing it was to help them out through Wheels Research.

JoyTown is one of the sweetest memories I have of Kenya, and I will never forget the faces I had the pleasure of meeting.


Elisa Hamm

My name is Elisa Hamm, and I am a sophomore kinesiology student at LeTourneau. God granted me the opportunity to travel with the wheels team to Kenya last summer and it was an eye-opening experience.

My group worked with kids in wheelchairs at a school for children with disabilities, and I enjoyed every minute of my time there. I gained a better understanding of the challenges that come with having a disability in less resourced settings, which will hopefully help me with the work I plan on doing in the future.

After I graduate from LeTourneau, I would like to go to graduate school for occupational therapy. I am so thankful for all the things God is teaching me through this class and hope to someday use these skills to serve others.


Luke Funk

Living and working in Kenya for three weeks of this last summer is an experience that will stay with me for a long time. Although I spent most of my time working to collect, organize, and complete data sets, what will stay with me the longest are the relationships I made along the way. Both Joytown’s students and staff were wonderful to work with, each with unique and refreshing personalities and perspectives.

During the last week we were in Kenya, the Wheels team arranged for a special meal to be served for the students as a “thank you” for participating in our study. It was then that I realized how many new friends I had made! We were also able to meet our goals for the gait study I was working on, and the immediate impact of the research was obvious.

I am thankful for the opportunity to experience research in such a unique and meaningful way. This trip especially opened my mind and eyes to the joys, difficulties, and rewards of engaging with and serving a culture dramatically different than my own.


Melanie Dittmer

My name is Melanie Dittmer. I'm a biology major at LeTourneau University who traveled to Kenya the summer of 2014 with the Wheels team.

I feel so blessed. God opened the door for me to travel abroad, helped me raise the money I needed, and sustained me while I was there. Working with the Wheels team and being at JoyTown interacting with the kids was a fantastic experience. I felt like I was learning the whole time: learning how to conduct a research experiment, learning how to work as a team, learning how to interact with kids with disabilities, and even learning how to speak some Swahili.

Life as a researcher in Kenya wasn't always easy, but I believe my experiences made me a better student, a better researcher, a better leader and a better teammate. I know I'll be able to use the skills I learned in Kenya here in America too. I'm so grateful for this awesome experience!


Sarah Crawford

I am forever changed. I was given the opportunity to shadow physical therapists, assist to fit orthotics, repair wheelchairs, and educate people about the technology we were using.

That is not what changed me, though.

Going to Kenya was nothing at all like what I anticipated. I went with the intent to do research; I did not realize I would end up building great relationships. JoyTown demonstrated God’s love and power beyond my greatest imagination. Despite the physical limitations these children have, nothing stops them.

In the three weeks we were there, we worked harder than we expected, but I do not believe a single team member would take back any of that time. Rather, we would gladly spend more time in JoyTown.


Wheels Team Members: Summer 2013

Emily Tutt

I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Kenya as part of the LeTourneau University Wheels Team and what an incredible trip it was. As a team of four students and our professor, Karen Rispin, we were able to experience a new culture, make international friendships, and conduct research in a tangible and meaningful way.

This trip introduced me to the intricate world of field research and taught me new ways to respond to challenges as both an individual and as a team. I not only learned about the process of research and interacting with friends in a new culture, I learned things about my own abilities and passions. I was motivated to more intensely consider my future with international travel and participation in the research community.

I really enjoyed the balance of hard work and research with unique opportunities to experience the beautiful nation of Kenya such as feeding giraffes, playing with chimpanzees, and observing a neurosurgery operation in a countryside Kenyan hospital. The Wheels 2013 Kenya Research trip was truly an experience of a lifetime, one I hope will continue to impact my future steps.


Matt Sturm

After spending only a month working with the children and the staff at Joytown, I left a much richer person. At Joytown I was given a clearer sense of where to find genuine joy in life, was blessed by a myriad of new friends to laugh and share life with, and was endowed with a greater appreciation for well developed wheelchairs.

The joy shared with me by the children and staff at Joytown clued me in once again to the ultimate source of real joy in life, the love of God. Also, through our research, I was presented with a chance to take on the compounded challenges of collecting data in a different country and culture.

In the end, I was deeply encouraged by the Bethany Kids Staff to live out Christ’s calling on my life-to serve others-as I saw them laying down their lives to do that very thing."


Anna McDonnel

I'm Anna McDonnel, a senior Interdisciplinary Studies major (Bio, Psych & History) and I'm so thankful I got to work on the Wheels team and go to Kenya for the summer of 2013.

Working on campus for the two semesters prior to the Kenya trip felt rich with things that I was learning about collaborative research writing and accountability to authority and my teammates. Going to Kenya, though, was the most exciting part of the project, where we completed more studies, got a better understanding of the research's context, and got to encourage and have fun with the kids at Joytown Primary and Secondary Schools who are wheelchair users.

Aspects of the project were very difficult at times, but I feel like I grew a lot and I can honestly say that I am sad to leave it behind; I am so thankful that I got to be a part of this unique opportunity to make a difference through research.


Nicole Leman

My name is Nicole Leman. After graduating from LETU in May 2013, I got to travel with the Wheels team to Kenya! The Wheels project gave me a great outlet to put to good use the knowledge and skills I had developed as an undergraduate kinesiology student.

Through the pre-trip efforts of collecting research on campus, writing and submitting journal articles, and presenting research before experienced professionals in the health science field, I believe I was well prepared for the trip to Kenya. The research of assistive devices I was involved in was relevant to my interest in physical therapy, which I plan to pursue someday.

I am so thankful I joined the Wheels team—I look back on building great relationships with my teammates, getting to know the children and staff of Joytown, and making a difference in the lives of handicapped children (especially in Kenya) through the data collection skills I had developed, as extremely valuable experiences that have molded my dreams and passions for the future.


Wheels Team Members: Summer 2012

Vanessa Parra

I am a pre-physical therapy student from West Texas who traveled to Kenya with the Wheels team in the summer of 2012. Working on the Wheels team has been an eye-opening experience, broadening my knowledge of the issues in third world countries. I have gained experience with teamwork and learning how to set priorities academically and spiritually. Meeting the children in person after all the hard work from the past two semesters was the best reward God could have given me.

Playing with the children and seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter was the best part of the day over in Joytown. I was able to work firsthand with the physical therapists there and the children, which just confirmed that I am on the right path with my studies. We were able to fulfill the research we needed to give effective feedback on maintenance, design and condition to generous wheelchair providers. Joining the Wheels team has been one of the best investments I have made, because I have learned extraordinary lessons.


Stormie Goodwin

Hello, my name is Stormie Goodwin. I am a chemistry student with the aspiration to attend medical school. I am planning to graduate from LeTourneau in the spring of 2015. Being a member of the Wheels team has offered a unique experience of bringing together research and ministry. Having the opportunity to integrate God’s work into research is amazing! In the summer of 2012 God blessed me with an amazing trip to Kenya with the Wheels team to study energy cost of pediatric wheelchairs and to verify the use of a questionnaire with children in wheelchairs. It was such a blessing working with the staff and children at Joytown in Thika, Kenya.

In addition to the valuable knowledge we gained from our research, we also learned what it looks like to truly serve others from observing the staff and children at Joytown. While in Kenya, we also had the opportunity to observe physical therapists and surgeons at work, tackling medical conditions we don’t often see in the States. It was an educational and spiritual experience. It was really neat to see firsthand the positive impact the Wheels team and its partners are making in Kenya for children in pediatric wheelchairs.


Kristen Huff

I’m a junior pre-PT biology student. I am from Houston, Texas, and I traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2012. After hearing so much from other students who have been a part of the project, it was an eye-opener to actually travel to Joytown and spend time there myself. The first day we toured Joytown, I had such a conflicting mixture of emotions that I couldn’t even respond to it. The absolute happiness that those beautiful children tackle every day with baffled me and made me feel even more privileged to be there and try to help them to have a better life in some small way.

I was able to work with therapists and other health professionals during the trip who offered a wealth of information pertaining to the degree I am pursuing. I made friends I will never forget and learned lessons in Kenya that will last a lifetime. It is my hope that one day I will be able to go back again and impact even more lives. In the meantime, I will continue to work toward my degree so that I can become as effective as possible in service.


Alex Ott Soliz

My name is Alex Soliz, and I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya as a part of the Wheels team. It was so exciting to finally see the fruits of all our hard work and research over the months in the hundreds of smiling faces at Joytown Primary School. Not only did we get the chance to talk to the children about their wheelchairs and help them get better ones in the future, we got to play with them and laugh with them and make memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

This research project is so much bigger than a few data runs. It's impacting the lives of children around the world, as well as the LETU students who are blessed to be able to work with them.


Kyle DeVries

I’m a mechanical engineering student from Southwest Michigan who traveled with Wheels to Kenya in May of 2012. Working with Wheels has given me some of the greatest memories in my life so far. Traveling to Kenya showed me that culture has everything to do with how you live your life. The culture in Kenya was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I found that after some struggling, I could meld right in with the local community. Work was very demanding. Other than sleeping and eating, it was work, work, work — and I loved it.

We accomplished so much and helped so many children. In return, the children that I worked with taught me how to be happy with where I am and to be grateful with what I have. Most of the work I did while at Joytown was fixing broken or damaged wheelchairs that the children were using and to insure mechanical safety for the data collection process. I have been deeply blessed by this experience and have found greater enjoyment in all of my work because of this opportunity.


Jill Brady

I’m a pre-physical therapy / kinesiology student from Nebraska who traveled to Kenya in the summer of 2012. Through the I team, God gave me numerous opportunities! I learned how to implement research by writing scientific papers, conducting data runs, utilizing computer programs and analyzing data. Once in Kenya, I got to see firsthand how the research was benefitting the children from Joytown Primary School. It is amazing how one wheelchair can really make a difference in a child’s everyday life.

Not only did we have the chance to shadow physical therapists at Joytown, but we also got to observe surgeries and tour the mission hospital in Kijabe. I will never forget the wonderful experiences I had in Kenya, and am excited to apply what I learned from the Wheels project to my future schooling and career.


Wheels Team Members: Summer 2011

Sam Nemati

I’m a pre-med student from California who traveled with Wheels in the summer of 2011. The Wheels project gave me an incredible opportunity to go to an emerging country, learn to serve people there medically, and use the tools God built into me to serve Him with in a whole new way. However, our trip to Kenya was not fun and games – it was perhaps the hardest three weeks of my life. I had learn how to cope with the foreign culture, quickly get as much data collected as possible, and to simply love children from backgrounds I don’t have. But fun things happened on top of collecting data for our study; I got to shadow medical missionaries in hospitals, physical therapists fit children to their assistive devices, and actually learn what it is like to be a medical missionary.

All our data is currently in process of being published; which is very exciting as well, since we get to become more and more a part of the global scientific community seeking to help improve medical needs of people in less-resourced settings. Overall, this trip taught me to give my all to a cause greater than myself, and to submit to doing things that could truly create a global impact to children worldwide. 


Taylor Geyman

I am a pre-dental/biology major from Northern Idaho who traveled with Wheels in the summer of 2011. Working on the Wheels team taught me important time management skills, the value of collaborating with other people, and the importance of communication. Travel to Kenya in the summer of 2011 opened my eyes to the vast need for healthcare in underdeveloped countries and the endless opportunities to fill the need.

While in Kenya, I was able to observe health professionals exemplify professional and compassionate healthcare in an underserved area of the world. The children at Joytown taught me compassion and joy by their interaction with one another, and I was blessed to be able to be a part of their lives and to be a part of what God is doing through the Wheels Project.


Wheels Team Members: Summer 2010

Elizabeth Richardson

I’m a pre-nursing student from Alaska who traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2010. Being a part of the Wheels team was a very influential experience in my life. Not only did I gain valuable academic experience as far as research is concerned, but I also learned about the needs of people around the world. Through my work on the Wheels team, I was blessed with the opportunity to offer assistance and love to children and adults in need of something I take for granted every day – mobility.

This experience broadened my view of what needs have been left unmet around the world, while at the same time allowing me to personally play a role in beginning to meet one of those needs. I will treasure my time with Wheels, especially the time spent working in Kenya, for the rest of my life!


Rachel Follingstad

I’m a student in the doctorate of Physical Therapy graduate program at Texas Women’s University who traveled with the Wheels team in the summer of 2010. As I look back on my Wheels experience I see what a defining impact it has had on many aspects of my life. From an educational point of view it has taught me the process of and importance of research. All medical fields are currently changing to practicing in an evidence based manner, and this has prepared me well as I start on my journey to becoming a physical therapist. The Wheels experience also set me apart as I interviewed at different physical therapy schools. There is limited research that can be carried out pertaining to PT at the undergraduate level, and this project was perfect for that.

The Wheels experience also helped me grow as a person. It challenged me in different ways to trust fully in God and do my best, but also to realize and trust that He is in control and will provide when there seems to be no possible way. Wheels also helped to fan the flame of my passion to work overseas and use physical therapy for those who need it desperately in third world countries. I am sure there are many benefits I am yet to realize, I know that it has prepared me very well for whatever God has planned. I am very thankful for the Wheels team, and though it was a challenge, it was a challenge that was more than worth it.


Faculty Advisor

Karen Rispin

 Associate Professor of Biology,
& Advisor for Pre-Health Tracks

E-mail: KarenRispin@letu.edu
Office: Glaske O-144
Phone: 903-233-3352