Capstone Projects Excite High School Students

With the aim of answering the question “What do engineers do?” a group of 50 high school sophomores from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering and Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science (AAE/GHAMAS) visited UConn on May 3, accompanied by teacher Penny Kelly, to explore UConn’s Senior Design Demonstration Day.  On that day, UConn’s storied Gampel Pavilion hosted over 150 innovative engineering projects designed and developed by seniors, many in collaboration with industry sponsors. (Read related stories here and here; and view a photo album here.)

Commenting on the experience, student Lola Oretade said, “I had expected a variety of brilliant ideas brought to life and to be shown the possible future that was in the hands of innovators such as the ones at UConn. However, I did not expect them to be so good. They were simply amazing and I found myself wondering how these ideas even came forth.”

senior1aThe academy students’ visit underscores the importance of exciting high school students in engineering as a profession that applies core math and science principles in designing and developing new and improved products and processes, from jet engines and smart grids to prosthetic knees and laptop computers. The challenge of enticing greater numbers of students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees and careers is a core pillar of Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s recently passed Next Generation Connecticut legislation.  In addition to growing the university’s overall STEM enrollments, the initiative takes specific aim at engineering with a goal of increasing enrollments in engineering disciplines by a whopping 70 percent.

Project-based learning is a proven, highly successful model used by engineering programs to help students bridge theory and practice. At UConn, engineering students are strongly encouraged to engage in industry internships or co-ops throughout their undergraduate years, and all seniors participate in a culminating senior design challenge that requires them to explore and solve a manufacturing or other product /process design challenge, often in close collaboration with an industry mentor and faculty advisor. 

The product of this experience is a working prototype or process simulation model, along with a graduating senior who has acquired real-world industry experience. Industry sponsors benefit from the arrangement as well, through receipt of a practical solution to a genuine challenge and the opportunity to “vet” and recruit top engineering students as full-time employees.

Riveting Profession

The AAE/GHAMAS students, along with biology and chemistry teacher Kelly, found the experience exciting and illuminating.  Lola was particularly excited by a modified baby bottle/pacifier system capable of diagnosing dysphagia in infants (see Team 4, Biomedical Engineering brochure below). “That was very interesting to me because it truly showed me how our future could be impacted by one project, and how technology has gotten to the point that it could be used to find possible health risks.”

Though she admits to uncertainty regarding her choice of careers, Lola says “Engineering, however, has definitely caught my interest.”

Fellow student Alex Collins, who aspires to a career in particle physics, said “I found the senior design expo to be much more interesting than I anticipated. I was surprised by the level of complexity of the projects. Two that I found especially fascinating were the energy saving heater which adapts to the heat given off in the room [see Team 46, Mechanical Engineering brochure below], and the bandage which promotes healing skin [see Team 14, Biomedical Engineering brochure below].”

The path that brought Lola and her fellow CREC School of Excellence students to Storrs began with a chance meeting between Dr. Thomas Barber, a UConn professor-in-residence of Mechanical Engineering, and teacher Kelly durisenior1ng summer 2012, when Kelly was embedded temporarily at Hamilton Sundstrand (now UTC Aerospace) as a participant in the United Technologies/National Science Teachers Association externship program.  “It was a great experience and the goal was for me to bring the engineering principles I learned at UTC into the classroom this year.  Based on my experiences, we created a new course at my magnet school titled ‘Engineering Concepts in Chemistry.’” 

Barber invited Kelly and students enrolled in her Engineering Concepts in Chemistry course to visit during Senior Design Demo Day. Following an introductory session at the Storrs campus, the students were free to explore the senior design projects and engage the engineering seniors in discussions about their projects, including questions about how they developed and fabricated their projects.

Kelly comments, “I was a molecular biologist for over 20 years [she was a research assistant at the UConn Health Center and a program educator at the CT Science Center before becoming a teacher], so I was especially drawn to the Biomedical Engineering projects. As I looked out over the exhibit floor, I was able to see what my students gravitated toward. They really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the seniors about their projects.  In fact, I had a ‘shining moment’ soon after we returned from UConn, when one of my students came up to me and said ‘That experience really helped me decide what kind of engineer I want to be.’”

Another project that caught the students’ attention was a custom modified go-kart designed and prototyped for a Connecticut man, Shane, whose cerebral palsy affects his motor control [see Team 3, Biomedical Engineering brochure below]. 

During the May 3 expo in the famed Gampel Pavilion, hundreds of visitors – including alumni, parents, practicing engineers and UConn students – explored the exhibits and engaged the engineering seniors in discussions about their projects.  Top projects selected by judging teams received financial awards and certificates. After many months of intensive work to ensure their design projects achieved all they were intended to do, and that industry sponsors were pleased with the outcome, for graduating seniors, the day signified a pinnacle accomplishment and the culmination of their UConn engineering experience.

For details on sponsoring a senior design project, or for project descriptions, please click on the appropriate link below.

Biomedical Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Donald Peterson, (860) 486-0372

Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Doug Cooper, (860) 486-4020  (related news item here)

Civil Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Howard Epstein, (860) 486-5638

Computer Science & Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Reda Ammar, (860) 486-5285

Electrical Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: John Chandy, (860) 486-5047

Environmental Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Amvrossios Bagtzoglou, (860) 486-4017

Management & Engineering for Manufacturing | Contact: Diane van Scoter, (860) 486-0415

Materials Science & Engineering  2013 projects | Contact: Hal Brody, (860) 486-0853  (related news item here)

Mechanical Engineering 2013 projects | Contact: Vito Marino, (860) 486-5342

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