ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We're going to hear about a pilot program that's allowing kids who are hospitalized to become inventors. You may have heard about maker spaces, locations where people gather to network and work on projects together. Artists, computer hackers - all sorts of do-it-yourselfers meet up to create things. At Vanderbilt University's Children's Hospital in Nashville, the maker space comes in the form of a large metal cart. Youth Radio producer Noah Nelson followed the cart alongside one 17-year-old patient.
NOAH NELSON, BYLINE: Emily Neblett has cystic fibrosis, so she spends a lot of time in the hospital.
EMILY NEBLETT: There's not really much to see from around the hospital from the room. It's just sick kids and nurses and doctors.
NELSON: Hospital stays can be isolating for kids, and keeping up with schoolwork can get tricky. That's where Gokul Krishnan comes in. He's a PhD student at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education, and he has created a mobile maker space.
GOKUL KRISHNAN: Many patients who have chronic illnesses are not allowed to leave their room due to safety reasons and cross-contamination issues. And that's why we bring the mobile maker space into the patient's room.
NELSON: The space is a metal cart filled with the equipment and materials you would need for small-scale engineering projects.
NEBLETT: On the cart I am looking at flashing lights and colorful drawers full of circuits, wires, Play-Doh and a huge white 3-D printer.
NELSON: At first she wasn't into it, but then Emily realized there was one thing she really wanted.
NEBLETT: I decided to make the doorbell just because my nurses or anybody that would come in the room would never knock. So I put a sign on my door that said ring my doorbell.
NELSON: But to get that bell, she had to build it and maybe accidentally learn a little about math and engineering along the way.
KRISHNAN: So what's this? This is the...
NEBLETT: It's the button.
KRISHNAN: Button - and what comes next?
NELSON: The point of the maker space isn't just to give kids with long hospital stays something cool to do. It's a pilot program designed by Krishnan to solve the problem of teaching those all-important science and math skills to kids inside hospitals. The project started when Krishnan met Brandon Bradley in September of 2013. This is Brandon who is in the hospital getting treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.
BRANDON BRADLEY: I was planning on for my senior year just taking my math and reading classes and filling the rest of the slots up with engineering classes. I asked my homebound teacher if she knew anybody, and she said that she might know some people. And a couple of weeks later, Gokul walked in.
KRISHNAN: He was the first person I actually interacted with as a volunteer.
NELSON: Brandon made a nurse nightlight.
BRADLEY: It would just light up the toilet and trash area so if the nurses came in at night and they opened up the door and flipped the lights on, it wouldn't wake up the child that was asleep.
NELSON: Krishnan credits Brandon as a cofounder of the project which started a serious trial this winter at the Nashville hospital. One cart has become two, and premed students are now being trained to expand the project further.
NEBLETT: I think that the cart is an amazing thing. It made my hospital stay the best hospital stay I've ever had.
NELSON: Krishnan's pilot program creates a new role for patients. Now they can be inventors and part of a global maker movement. For NPR News, I'm Noah Nelson.
SIEGEL: That story was produced by Youth Radio.
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