Projects Immerse Seniors in Full Engineering Process Experience
July 25, 2013
Seniors show off the results of their projects at an event in the spring. Planners said the students' work showed a level of sophistication not often seen in engineering projects.
The spring semester ended with a string of firsts in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science senior project program – first cross-departmental projects, first interdisciplinary projects and the first year for corporate sponsored projects in mechanical engineering.
The design projects, considered by some as a stepping stone from the undergraduate educational experience to the professional world, take students from identifying a problem to designing and implementing a solution. Each team receives guidance from a faculty member, and in the case of UTDesign, a program in which businesses sponsor projects, a company mentor as well. Each semester ends with a competition known as senior design day, at which students present their work and compete for the top project as judged by corporate representatives.
Formal senior design tracks have been established in electrical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering.
Brittni Greenfeld presented her TI PC Deployment Tool project during the recent Senior Design Expo. Before graduating, seniors in computer science and electrical and mechanical engineering presented their work.
“Our projects three or four years ago were relatively simple,” said Dr. Marco Tacca, a senior lecturer and project coordinator in electrical engineering. “This semester, we had projects that included a camera that tracked eye movement to automatically focus a flashlight where the person gazed, to a Frito-Lay project that brought electrical engineering and mechanical engineering students together – the first cross-departmental UTDesign project.”
Computer science design students reached beyond the Jonsson School to complete their tasks. Their software platform, which may be implemented by area school districts this fall, involved students from the Naveen Jindal School of Management and Arts and Technology (ATEC) program. Jindal School students helped create marketing strategies and complete a competitive business analysis. ATEC students helped create the site.
“Students graduating from our senior design program are ready for the professional world, where they will interact not only with engineers and programmers in their same area, but also engineers from other specialties and people who want to ensure that the product is needed and marketable,” said Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean of corporate relations for the Jonsson School and UTDesign coordinator. “Our senior capstone program prepares students for workforce realities.”
“Students graduating from our senior design program are ready for the professional world, where they will interact not only with engineers and programmers in their same area, but also engineers from other specialties and people who want to ensure that the product is needed and marketable.”
This was the second senior class for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the first time to have senior design in the current format with corporate sponsors. Frito-Lay, Lennox International, Atmos Energy, Texas Instruments and Halliburton Co. were among the sponsors. Mechanical engineering design day coincided with the opening of a new machine shop.
“Implementing an academically rigorous, industrially relevant senior design experience within the course of one year was a tremendous achievement for the ME department,” said Dr. Robert Hart, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering and coordinator for mechanical engineering design projects. “I think one of the most interesting things about the projects is that many of them solve problems that are of immediate importance to the company. In fact, several of the prototypes will be directly put to use by the sponsoring companies.”
One of those was the aforementioned Frito-Lay project. While details couldn’t be discussed, students said they gained valuable experience from the program: building a solution, working on a team, learning from their company mentors who stayed late into the night to help them and presenting to Frito-Lay executives.
“This is what I want to do as a career – take an idea, design it and build it,” said Ryan Perkinson, a mechanical engineering student on the team who graduated in May and is working as a Frito-Lay intern this summer. "It’s exciting to put all the different pieces together and make them work.”
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