Maureen White is a typical millennial girl—she enjoys being part of a team and using her skills to help others, and she favors research-based methods in order to achieve her goals.

A Taos High School graduate and currently a sophomore student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, White is majoring in Civil Engineering.

“I also have a special interest in water systems and resource management,” she said, “so my minor is in Sustainability Studies. After I graduate, I’d like to come back to Taos and apply what I’m learning now, which is a lot.”

White has lived in Taos since she was five years old. Her father is a physician and her mother is a dentist. They came from New York because they loved the Southwest and its people, and they worked in the Pueblo for around eight years.

“They wanted to come to a place that was beautiful and where they could help people,” said White. “When my mother found out that there weren’t many dentists who took Medicaid clients here, she started doing that and now she takes lots of children and people on Medicaid. Both my parents like to make a difference in people’s lives.”

White is following in their steps.

Once she comes back to Taos, she plans to open her own business. “Whatever it is, it will be related to water systems because water is so important in this area,” she said. “And, definitely, it will be something that has a positive impact on our community and its natural resources.”

In the meantime, she is working on the design of an automatic service animal feeder. The project was born in the classroom, as an assignment for her Introduction to Engineering Design class.

“Anytime I do something, be it a class assignment or an extra curricular activity, I want it to be of help to people,” said White. “For this particular project, I am part of a seven-student team and we went through different ideas before settling on one. We all wanted to do something innovative, practical, that used our talents and wasn’t currently in the market.”

In the end, the team’s decision was to create an easy-to-use automatic feeding system for assistance dogs whose owners might have challenges in reaching, cleaning, remembering, or otherwise accessing the way they feed the animals.

“Maureen has always had a strong desire to be of assistance in the world, and she is anxious to start putting her skills to use even before graduating from college,” said Ursula Beck, who owns a young assistant dog, Grace, and a retired one, Risa. “I am so happy that she has directed her attention to our beloved and caring companions. They help us very much and in turn need all the help we can give them.”

“In short, the idea is to assist people that because of mental of physical disabilities have problems feeding their service animals,” White said. “The device will be simple, with just four buttons, and will incorporate lights, sounds and tactile feedback.”

It will also be completely automated. It will give owners the possibility of controlling portion sizes and will have an alarm to let them know when the food is running low.

“The auditory signals will be a great help,” White said.

The project is now in the generation-and-development stage.

“We started by interviewing people about their actual needs,” said White, “because we had to find out exactly what assistance dog owners wanted and which problems they encountered more often.”

Once the needs are totally identified, White and her team of budding engineers will apply their skills to solve them.

“First we generated a design, now we are finishing the interviews and finally, we will put everything together,” she said. “After I go back to school, once spring break finishes, we will start implementing the device. I can’t wait to have it ready!”

The research for this project is still being carried out. White and her team have developed a questionnaire to help them get feedback from assistance dog owners. It is available online. If you own a service animal, please fill it out here