Future problem solvers at work
Seniors showcase their capstone projects at UND’s annual College of Engineering & Mines Expo
Visitors to the Memorial Union Ballroom on Tuesday, May 2 might have encountered an electric bicycle zooming across their path, before noticing a large rocket standing in a corner, robotic devices, a small bridge and a race car simulator, among myriad other displays.
It’s a good thing, then, that plenty of visitors got to see those sights. On Tuesday was held the UND College of Engineering & Mines Expo, an event where seniors showcase their capstone projects. More than 270 high schools across North Dakota and Minnesota were able to view online presentations of those projects, then vote for a winner. More than 80 students from Central High School in Grand Forks attended the CEM event in person, which has come to be known as a premier showcase of technology and innovation for disciplines spanning Engineering, Computer Science and Geology.
Brian Tande, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines, likened the gathering of soon-to-be graduates to a group of professional problem solvers. In fact, many of the capstone research projects were supported by local businesses that need engineering solutions.
“It’s all about what engineers are supposed to be doing, solving problems,” Tande said, moments before taking the stage to kick off the event.
Once at the podium, Tande joked that if the seniors didn’t know who he was, it was likely due to them being diligent students during the course of their studies. He thanked them for their efforts and congratulated them on working to solve real-world problems.
“This is this is one of the most fun events that we have every year, where we get to see what everybody else is doing,” he said. “We get to brag about the all the hard work that we put in and show everybody what engineering really is all about, which is working on real projects, solving problems for people and making life better for other people.”
Mikayla Schirado was one of those problem solvers. She was explaining to attendees her group’s work to devise a new mechanism that can rotate a horizontal pressure vessel for Steffes Group—the vessels are used in powder coating operations, among other uses, and the industry, she said, has moved beyond the use of vertical vessels.
“We reused an old part and added attachments in the red and the yellow there,” Schirado said, gesturing to a poster outlining the work. “That rotates their vessels so they can do blasting and coating on their pressure vessels at the facility here in Grand Forks.”
Along with Tim Fah and Kaycee Lambrecht, Matt Malusky and Broc Waldhausen were on hand to discuss their work on the feasibility of using a thermoplastic to manufacture components used in ethanol fuel systems. The project, which received funding from the North Dakota Corn Council, proved to be popular among attendees, as the group was voted to receive the “Best Process/Research Project” award. The project was overseen by Surojit Gupta, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Gupta secured grant funding through the Corn Council, and was lead principal investigator on the project.
Receiving the “Best Prototype Project” award were David Barber, Michael Ramseth, Robert Robison and Riley Sondrol for their Batter Shaker food device. Winners of the awards will split scholarship funds.
In between learning about projects like a robot mining device (designed to be used by NASA for lunar mining operations), an electric bicycle that recharges when pedaled or the latest activities of the UND Rocketry Club (yes, they actually design rockets on campus then launch them just north of Fargo), attendees were invited to take a spin on a race car simulator. There was just one catch though, would-be racers had to get stamps on an Expo passport. More rides meant getting more stamps.
Dominik Steinhauer, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, has been involved with organizing the Expo for about five years. The event, he said, gives seniors the opportunity to hone their presentation skills. But it also has another purpose, to spark an interest in engineering among younger students, and introduce them to educational pathways at UND that can lead to lifelong careers.
“It’s a way for all the senior students and other design projects to show off to the public in a way to get the public interested in engineering,” he said.
In fact, many of the presenters said they were looking forward to beginning their careers. Mikayla Schirado, of the Steffes engineering project, said she has taken a job doing design work for HVAC systems. Other students said they won’t be away from UND for long and will be back for graduate school in the fall. Others are still sifting through potential career options.
Said Broc Waldhausen, with the award-winning thermoplastic project on behalf of the North Dakota Corn Council: “I’m going through interviews right now.”
Several project sponsors visited the campus to participate in the event, including Marvin, Retrax, Textron Aviation, Steffes Group and American Crystal Sugar Company.