Building their future: Tennessee Tech student engineers start career with 12-year-old drummer

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — Aubrey Sauvie plays to the beat of her own drum.

At the age of 12, Aubrey has already sold her artwork, danced competitively, earned her black belt in taekwondo, and currently plays the snare drum in her middle school band– and she does it all without hands.

“It definitely was a challenge to learn but as time went on it became easier and easier until wasn’t difficult at all,” said Aubrey.

Aubrey was born as a triple congenital amputee with a loss of limbs below both her elbows and a foot missing toes.

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While her peers may have completed tasks faster, Aubrey wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way. “It’s just one part of me. It doesn’t make me, me.”

But Aubrey said sometimes, that’s all people see.

Teasing and bullying started, mostly on social media. Aubrey’s grades started falling behind, and the feelings, she said, were overwhelming.

But a support group of family and friends gave bullying a new tune.

“You’ve just got to learn to tune it out because people are going to say stuff no matter what. Just remember it is probably something that is going on with them. So they want to take out their anger and agitation on you.”

For Aubrey, music is a place where she can feel—and play—any emotion.

But playing had presented some challenges. “It was kind of difficult because the sticks would start slipping,” Aubrey described.

SEE ALSO: Tennessee Tech students create prosthetics for 12-year-old drummer

After a recommendation from her middle school band teacher, Aubrey was getting one-of-a-kind prosthetics made especially for her by Tennessee Tech students in the Tech Engineering for Kids program.

“So she plays the drums; does she also play the mallets? Does she play a xylophone? Something like that. So like is it going to have to have different handles? How is it going to be secured to the hand? All of these are questions we are thinking through,” said Tennessee Tech mechanical engineering student, Zakary Henson.

After three to four weeks of planning, the ten students decided to create the prosthetics using only a 3D printer.

“They said ‘No, no, we are going to make the final product 3D printed,’” said Stephen Canfield, Tennessee Tech Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “And that’s when I sort of said those infamous words. I said, ‘That is a one in a million chance that will work.’ But I said, ‘Hey, give it a try.’”

The process was measurements, multiple drafted prosthetics, trial and error.

“It was definitely a trust-the-process type thing,” said Aubrey.

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The prosthetics went from a solid firm structure to then having holes formed to become more breathable.

“It was just a bunch of prints over and over again. Just to see if we can do this and each print was like 24 hours long,” said engineering student, Branson Blaylock.

A full semester later, the prosthetics finally fit.

“We were just sitting there like, wow, we just accomplished this,” said Blaylock.

The final product was durable, flexible, and adjustable. But most importantly gave the sound Aubrey was looking for.

“She just had such better sound quality. And the way we designed the “wrist” of the arm like it had some flexibility to get that paradiddle-type sound,” said engineering student, Micah Page.

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Aubrey was grateful for the hard work the Tennessee Tech students put into the project. “They were so enthusiastic and determined to make it work.”

Not only did Aubrey gain a firm grip and sound with her drumsticks, she gave the students a tempo to carry with them into the future.

Aubrey shared with News 2 a message to anyone who needs to hear it, “Don’t give up even if it seems hard.”

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