Senior Design Project Adds Tech Touch to Commencement
May 23, 2014
From left: Timothy McGuire, Julian Torres, Johanan Rodriguez and Jasmine Singh make final adjustments to their senior design project, which was piloted during a Jonsson School commencement ceremony.
Three seconds. After four years earning a degree, three seconds is about the amount of time a graduating student spends on the commencement stage.
“What would be terrible is during that three seconds your parents wouldn’t even be able to recognize you,” said electrical engineering graduate Johanan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and classmates Timothy McGuire, Julian Torres and Jasmine Singh developed a technical solution as part of the senior design program in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science to ensure that family members and friends watching the ceremony in person and on the Web stream knew exactly when their loved ones walked across the stage.
The students’ radio frequency identification (RFID) system allowed a graduate’s name, degree and major to be displayed on a video screen just as a camera caught them crossing the stage and shaking the hand of Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Jonsson School.
“It gives graduates more recognition, and parents get to see their child’s name on the screen,” Torres said.
Part of developing the system included determining how the system would work. Early ideas included having graduates step on a floor mat that would start the process to display their information. The team decided on RFID technology because it did not interfere with the ceremony or add to the orator’s duties of reading the names.
As computer science graduate student Mathew Gray walks across the stage at the Jonsson School’s second commencement ceremony, his name and degree are projected on the video screen. A group of students developed the feature for their senior design program project.
For the ceremony, each student’s information was assigned a unique identification number and embedded onto a chip or sticker. That sticker was put on a card, read and scanned by an orator at the podium. The scan sent a signal that was wirelessly transmitted to a computer system that projected the student’s information on the ceremony’s on-stage video screen.
Richard Sullins, information systems coordinator for the records office and a graduation orator, was impressed.
“It’s very smooth,” a smiling and complimentary Sullins told the students during a test run of the system. “I’m surprised how fast it is, and it looks good.”
The graduation display was developed through the senior design program, in which seniors design a capstone project using the knowledge they have acquired in traditional classroom settings and outside the classroom.
Torres and Rodriguez, both electrical engineering majors, had to learn about software and graphics, and McGuire and Singh, computer engineering majors, had to learn about radio frequency signals.
“It was difficult at times, but that is the whole point of senior design — to give us a challenge and to overcome those challenges,” McGuire said.
This spring, the Jonsson School held two ceremonies. McGuire, Rodriguez and Singh graduated during the first. Singh also was commencement speaker for the first. At the second ceremony, the students piloted their system.
University President David E. Daniel mentioned the project and the students during his commencement address.
“This project is just one small example of the innovation our graduates are already doing and will continue to do as they head off to the next phase of their careers,” he said.
After a small delay, the system worked.
“It was a little nerve-wracking when the first 10 people didn’t have their RFID tags,” McGuire said. “But once the people with the tags came up, we were pleased with how it went.”
While commercialization of the system has been discussed, the students said the project is more about legacy: They hope other teams will build onto the system and that it will be used for all UT Dallas graduation ceremonies, not just the engineering and computer science commencements.
“I think that’d be pretty cool,” said Torres, who will graduate in December.
There was also talk about the students’ grade for the class depending on how the system performed at graduation.
“We checked a couple of days after graduation,” McGuire said. “We got an A-plus.”