PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – Adia Cardona is the ideal violin student. Her instructor, Madilyn Olsen, describes the 10-year-old as the “cutest little girl.”
“She has a spark for life,” Olsen says of Cardona to ABC4. “Every time she comes into lessons she has a new story about something that happened in school, or at church, or with her family over the weekend. She just has excitement for life and is eager to talk about it, to make friends, and to just live life to the fullest.”
What makes Cardona unique, in addition to her bubbly, happy demeanor, is her determination. Born without part of her right arm, she has refused to set any limits for herself. However, due to the nature of the instrument, learning to play the violin reached an impasse as carefully guiding the bow across the strings became more and more challenging.
She wears a prosthetic that helps move the bow, but without the ability to maneuver and bend her wrist, the bow can lose control and affect the sound of the notes played, causing a kind of fuzziness.
“She got so frustrated because she knew she was trying to play the right note, but it wasn’t coming across that way,” Olsen explains.
Needing to provide an extra bit of help for Cardona, who attends lessons at the United Way Center in the South Franklin neighborhood in Provo, Olsen reached out to the BYU School of Engineering for help.
The solution came thanks to a combination of chopsticks, rubber bands, and concern for those who need additional help from a thoughtful and talented undergraduate student.
“I don’t think that what’s special about this project was the complexity of the device. I think it was the meaning behind the device,” says Joshua Vanderpool, who was asked by the university to create a solution for Cardona and Olsen.
Vanderpool, a 23-year-old engineering student at BYU, has a passion for using what he’s learning to make life better for folks. In addition to his studies, he serves as the president of the 2ft Prosthetic Club, a student-founded nonprofit that focuses on prosthetic devices for low-income families.
“What got me involved in the prosthetics club, was because there was an opportunity to use engineering in a way that would change, an individual’s life, and not just increase the interest increase revenue at some company or increase efficiency in some warehouse, it would impact that person’s life,” Vanderpool explains.
Upon getting the assignment from the college, Vanderpool met with Olsen to discuss the problem. Later he attended one of their lessons, with a few ideas in mind as to how to correct Cardona’s bow and keep it in the ideal position.
Although he had never played violin – he was a trumpet player in high school – the simple solution came as he was digging through his backpack for raw materials. Needing to build a post which would prevent the bow from moving to an unsavory location on the strings, Vanderpool grabbed the chopsticks he kept in his bag for lunch and built a crude prototype by attaching it to the instrument with rubber bands he found in a nearby office. The rudimentary device turned out to be a perfect solution.
About a week later, the attachment had received a more polished look and fit after Vanderpool designed it, mocked it up and built it using a 3-D printer. He recalls handing the finished product to Cardona as “a very happy fulfilling moment.”
Thanks to Vanderpool’s work, Olsen says there is a night and day difference in Cardona’s performance. The 10-year-old was “thrilled and elated” at the progress she’s made thanks to the simple attachment.
She’s always been an amazing player, but having just a simple device made her sound so much more clear she didn’t have to stress about anything and she could just play and enjoy the music,” Olsen tells ABC4.
Speaking about the experience of working with Vanderpool, Olsen praises his passion and concern for her student. It made the happy ending even more pleasant along the way.
“He was so kind with her. He made it so easy for her to open up and to talk about it,” Olsen says of Vanderpool. “He allowed her to have this device to help her where she needs to but then he got out of the way and let her soar. I just love how he was so kind and so friendly with working with her.”
When relayed the lofty remarks Olsen gave of him, Vanderpool barely acknowledges his involvement in the project. Instead, he in turn, begins his praise of the young violinist.
“I like kids. I think they always have interesting opinions and wonderful things to say. Just having a conversation with Adia, it was wonderful to see because she initiated this entire project,” Vanderpool observes of Cardona. “She’s the one that was like, ‘I want to play the violin. I want to play piano, I want to ride my bike.’ And seeing that drive her determination, I was really impressed and I gained a lot of respect for her.”