Our Tufts: Athena Ohnemus, E23

Mechanical engineering senior Athena Ohnemus connects people and develops tools for good through engineering.
Athena Ohnemus, E23

“I first gravitated toward STEM in high school. At Tufts, I decided to major in mechanical engineering because I’ve always loved the idea of learning how to build things. I spent last summer as a TA for Tufts’ Pre-College Engineering program. The kids all had such different experiences, but most of them shared a feeling that there weren’t many others like them in school. They had difficulty finding other students who enjoyed the same things they did. I felt so lucky that I was able to give them a sense of hope—that once they went to college, they’d find other people who were passionate about the same things, and they wouldn’t feel so alone. One boy was tearing up at the end of the program because he didn’t want to leave; this was somewhere he felt like he belonged. That’s how I feel at Tufts.

I was introduced through our Pre-College program to the company I’m working for now, Tatum Robotics. Their CEO was a guest lecturer and the work she was doing—building a tactile signing robot for the DeafBlind community—really resonated with me. DeafBlind people place their hands on top of the signer’s to understand what they’re saying by physically feeling their movements. 

The robot we’re working on at Tatum Robotics is a two-way interface—able to translate messages from written text into tactile sign so DeafBlind folks can receive things like emails from loved ones, and then reply through sign. This robot is a means of connecting people. I worked on the design of the fingers, making sure they returned to a fully vertical position after a sign, since, otherwise, the downward forces controlling them eventually bent the material permanently. This meant the robot wasn’t able to do certain signs accurately. 

The thing I love most about engineering is being able to apply my skills in order to do something good. It’s really exciting to take what you know and use it to make something that’ll impact people’s lives for the better.”

–Athena Ohnemus, E23, for Tufts Engineering Week. As shared with Layla Noor Landrum, A24.  

#OurTufts is a series of personal stories shared by members of the Tufts community. Photography by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University.