Engineer majors test-drive innovation

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Andrew Haskell/THE FALCON Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Kevin Bolding (left) and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Adam Arabian (center) consult with team Cerberus.

 

No engineer is born with the ability to design the latest spacecraft, according to Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Kevin Bolding.

For Bolding, becoming a good engineer requires room to make mistakes. The place to do that, Bolding says, is Seattle Pacific’s Engineering Capstone & Senior Design course.

“This gives them a chance to tackle a whole project, go through basically advanced training in their jobs, hit the speed bumps and fail gently,” Bolding says.

Adam Arabian, associate professor of mechanical engineering, instructs the course with Bolding. He says that senior design is student led and directed.

“My job is basically to guide them through the process [because] at the end of the day, it’s their project,” Arabian says. “We form teams based on common interests. Once [the students] get together, they decide what kind of project they want to do.”

As the major’s capstone, all senior engineering students take the course.

The 34 students enrolled in the course are split into seven teams. The teams develop products using the knowledge and skills learned in previous engineering classes.

The course spans an entire academic year, beginning in fall quarter when students create their initial designs. Each quarter, students are required to make a certain amount of progress.

“[Now] they’re a little bit along,” Bolding says. “At the end of this quarter, they should have all the major systems done.”

Senior Salomon Meza, leader of design team Rocky, says that while the average time he spends working on his group’s project its at least 10 hours a week, he enjoys working on the project.

“I love the actual work designing a system that solves a problem,” Meza says.

Among other inspirations, Rocky teammate John Wheeler’s connections with the military were a large influence in the group’s project.

The team is working on developing a way to provide military units with Wi-Fi access and mobile hard drive space when on the ground.

“One of the things that they have there is a mobile hotspot,” Meza says.

According to Meza, when Internet access is unavailable, military units are forced to switch to more tedious methods of relaying information.

“When they go out there…they’ll have to switch to pen and pad and relay information from unit to unit via pen and paper,” Meza says. “Our project really is just a standalone unit. With a press of a button, you’ll be able to provide Wi-Fi and hard drive space.”

Meza says their product would allow emergency response teams to use laptops without having to make the switch, allowing a quicker and easier communication flow.

Senior Alex Abate, team leader of the senior design group Nickerson Street Irregulars, says her group’s project was inspired by fellow team member Johnathan Nyhuis’ experiences in medical missions in Liberia.

“One of the towns he went to, they got there by bus,” Abate says. “What should’ve taken them…four hours to drive instead took two days just because the transportation in that area and infrastructure is so underdeveloped.”

According to Abate, the Nickerson Street Irregulars sought a way to preserve goods over the course of long travel.

“[We’re] working on a highly portable, highly reliable refrigeration unit in order to transport vaccines to rural areas [and] underdeveloped areas, where it’s harder to get vaccines to,” Abate says.
According to Abate, the team’s product has multiple recharging methods.

“You could plug it into a wall. You could plug it into a car battery or a cigarette lighter inside a car,” Abate says. “We’re going to have a mechanical hand crank where you can…generate power so that the power port is very reliable.”

Abate says the project idea caught her attention because it involved a diversity of engineering inputs. The study foci among her teammates range from mechanical to computer science, allowing her team’s project to breach more than one side of engineering

“All of us specifically wanted to be on a well-rounded project,” Abate says.

For Abate, the real world implications of her team’s project provide another strong incentive for its development.

“It wasn’t just a cool idea or something interesting or trendy,” Abate says. “We wanted to do something that could make a difference.”

Since the team would work on the project for the last nine months of their undergraduate careers, Abate wanted to make sure the product was something worth pursuing.

“We wanted to be investing in something that had the potential to change lives,” Abate says.

For Meza, finding meaning in the project’s implications is a huge source of motivation.

“The idea that you’re actually helping people who are helping people, that’s always a bonus,” Meza says. “It is a project that will have a very small kind of client…But it’ll still be something where you get to help people who help people.”

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