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Engineering Senior Design Day

close up of engineering project

Engineering Senior Design Day

by Jack McClellan

Students, industry meet over real-world projects

 An engineer can truly appreciate the evolution of the
Ingram School of Engineering’s biggest showcase, called
Senior Design Day. After all, the one-day event each fall
and spring is all about design concepts such as efficiencies and
scaling. The first Senior Design Day was held in spring 2014. But
even then, the Ingram School’s director, Dr. Stan McClellan, had
a vision for an event with greater visibility — and presented on a
grander scale. 

So Senior Design Day was moved from the confines of the
Mitte Complex to the more spacious Embassy Suites San Marcos
Conference Center, and the event itself took on a much more
professional tone: Engineering students now wear business suits;
leaders from local, state, and national industries circle the exhibit
space for potential new recruits; and industry sponsors are tied to
each senior design project.

“Two ways students interact outside of the somewhat contrived,
academic environment are research and design of products, and
processes based on realistic constraints. It’s closer to the real
world,” says McClellan.

“Industry-sponsored projects have a lot of depth and interest. It helps students get jobs after they graduate. We've had situations where students finish their senior design presentations and representatives from companies chase them out into the hall .”

— Dr. Stan McClellan

 A senior design or capstone project is a two-semester sequence
class, which acts as an introduction to the design process. Students
form groups, industry partners offer potential projects, and
students choose a partner and project. This type of capstone
project is a requirement for an engineering program to maintain
accreditation, as well as a chance for students to gain valuable
experience outside the typical classroom environment.

“We want the students to stretch out beyond their experience,”
McClellan says. “Industry-sponsored projects have a lot of
depth and interest. It helps students get jobs after they graduate.
We’ve had situations where students finish their senior design
presentations and representatives from companies chase them
out into the hall.”

Indeed, there were more than just a few business cards
distributed as the fall event progressed. Industry members also
asked pointed questions of the students, sat in on presentations,
and assisted in grading the projects.

“There are many benefits to working with industry partners,”
says electrical engineering major Michael Rodriguez. His team
developed a rainfall detection and alarm system for Ingram
Readymix Inc. Teammates included fellow electrical engineering
majors Darryl Balderas, Chui Sian Chin, Matthew Smith, Tyler
Shafer, and Jeff Kilgore.

“Students are able to work on real-world problems and use
their engineering skills to address the task given. That prepares
the students for their professional careers because they have been
exposed to the simulated professional environment of senior
capstone. The industry partners provide great technical support
and mentorship,” Rodriguez says.  

The 25 Senior Design Day projects on display
last December were spread across the disciplines of
electrical, computer, and manufacturing engineering.

Among these was an olfactory delivery system,
designed for NASA. The “proof of concept” system the
students designed holds six scents that are released on
demand through a computer system, using induction
heating. Because fragrance is linked to memory, the
system is aimed at combating the negative psychological
effects of the “clean environment” of space travel.
Senior manufacturing engineering major James J.
Cerda was grateful for the opportunity to work with the
government rocket scientists.

“Working so closely with NASA has awakened me
to industry standard practices and concerns that as a
student you don’t have to take in consideration,” Cerda
says. “The capstone event feels more like a ceremony
commencing the student into the industry, which, to me,
has more value than graduation itself.”

Along with Cerda, engineering students working on
this project include Kelsey Melhorn, Daniel Slaughter,
Daniel Shafer, Ivan Juarez, Robert Fernandez, and David
Jaime, the group’s chemistry major.

Seniors Jaime Perez, Joshua Sorenson, and
Yohannes Derso developed a system for aligning charges
of perforating guns — used in fracking — for Hunt &
Hunt, a Houston-based precision machine shop with ties
to the oil and gas industry. This system uses intelligent
image analysis, the same kind used in facial recognition
software, to correctly place the segments of the gun. The
students were given a target of 30 seconds in which to
align each segment; their latest tests achieved alignment
in four seconds.

The industry members likewise found the day
educational and opportunity filled. “From our end, we’re
getting exposure in the college and with the students,”
says Kevin Kemp, with NXP Semiconductors of Austin.
He sits on the school’s Industrial Advisory Board, which
helps with curriculum alignment and development of
industry-friendly processes.

NXP sponsored four projects at the fall event and
Kemp confirmed the symbiotic nature of the event from
the industry side. “Of course, we also recruit from the
university — identifying potential students for hiring is
part of the deal, as well,” he says. 

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