Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kevin Schmaltz

April 29, 2016


“It is perhaps one of the most challenging majors at WKU…but you get a lot for your hard work.” This is what Dr. Kevin Schmaltz says about Mechanical Engineering. A professor of Mechanical Engineering here at Western Kentucky University, Dr. Schmaltz is one of many instructors who works tirelessly to ensure an engaging undergraduate experience for his students. While most ME students will see him in as many as five or six classes throughout their years of schooling, some may not know the story behind his interest in engineering and what brought him to Western Kentucky University. Let’s take some time to get to know Dr. Schmaltz!

Dr. Schmaltz’s interest in engineering started, as he puts it, “back in the stone ages!” Throughout high school, he had an interest in math and science, as well as other engineering-related topics. His father being an engineer, it seemed natural for him to go into this field of study, as well. He went to Virginia Tech to study engineering without a second thought, and afterwards he worked as a practicing engineer for Shell Oil. He enjoyed his work and was good at making technical decisions and other necessary aspects of engineering. However, throughout his years of schooling, he realized that he wanted to be involved in the education of others. At the large undergraduate university he attended, Dr. Schmaltz learned that most engineering professors at such institutions focus on their own research, only doing a small amount of teaching. Many classes were taught by graduate students, and there was not a large emphasis put on teacher-student interaction. However, several experiences as he worked towards his doctorate helped him realize that he wanted to go in the direction of teaching. He valued the idea of teachers working to do a good job at teaching and universities that support this. He was able to teach a design class as a PhD candidate, where he actually spent a great deal of time in front of students, interacting with them. One of his advisors who put an emphasis on quality education also reinforced this idea for him.

So, Dr. Schmaltz went on to teach at a small university, Lake Superior State University, after finishing his doctorate. Five years later, he came to teach at Western Kentucky University. WKU was appealing to him because it is a school where professors are focused on teaching students well. He believes that many universities advertise teacher-student interaction, but they do not always employ strategies that allow for this kind of collaboration. However, he feels that Western does this in several ways:

  • its manageable size
  • project-based learning, which facilitates teacher-student interaction
  • more emphasis on professors teaching, rather than conducting research


Since coming to WKU, Dr. Schmaltz has enjoyed being involved with students, and he particularly enjoys doing projects with them. Many of the classes he teaches are project-based design classes, and he works with a wide range of students, from freshmen all the way up to seniors. Each semester brings him over 20 new student teams, over 125 students, and many new projects. While he is pleased with even the smallest project, he is also fond of working with students on some of the larger projects at WKU, such as the biodiesel facility. Currently in operation, the biodiesel project allows for all waste vegetable oil from WKU dining facilities to be made into biodiesel, which powers machinery out on the farm. While Dr. Schmaltz admits that all of the projects can get crazy and busy, he also finds it very rewarding.

2014.11.08_ high school robotics _lewis-0098Outreach is very important to Dr. Schmaltz, as well. He believes that engineering educators have a responsibility and a commitment to share what they do with others. Dr. Schmaltz makes it a point to get involved with the Bowling Green community and facilitate within it an interest in engineering. Dr. Schmaltz thinks that while many kids may have an aptitude for math and science, many of them may not be given the opportunity to learn about engineering and explore its possibilities as a career. Through the LEGO Competition and Robotics Competition for elementary through high school-aged students, he hopes to create and facilitate this interest. He loves being involved with this sort of outreach project, and he also encourages current WKU engineering students to volunteer, reminding them: “Something encouraged you to try engineering…Now, let’s go out and do that for someone else!”

Dr. Schmaltz is proud of the engineering program at Western Kentucky University. He feels that the mechanical engineering major challenges students and prepares them for life after graduation. The project-based learning method of teaching allows students to work on projects throughout all four years of their undergraduate degree. Additionally, many ME sophomores complete projects that are not less challenging than senior projects at other schools. While he does believe that mechanical engineering is one of the hardest majors at Western, he would encourage a freshman considering engineering to try it out. His students must work hard, but they will have the opportunity to do many interesting things. Dr. Schmaltz says that “the story of engineering is not that you get to use math and science…but you get to take on things that can improve the world…ideas that can change the world around you and improve the lives of people…You get a lot in return for your hard work.”

Steps for Success: Engineering Employment Opportunities

April 16, 2016

Graduation can be an exciting, but scary time for college seniors. As the time grows closer for students to enter the professional world and leave their university days behind, many questions and concerns arise. Did I make the most of my college experience? Will I attend grad school? Accept a full-time job? How will I find employment opportunities? I spent all this time in school…now, what? While these questions come along with difficult decisions, Western Kentucky University does the most that they can do to help students answer these questions. In the WKU Engineering Department, engineering faculty try their best to help students make the most of their college experience and prepare for life after graduation.

While many employment opportunities are available to engineering students, they must also keep in mind that they are entering a competitive field. One of the best ways to secure a job after graduation is to gain some industry experience while still in school. WKU’s Engineering Industrial Partnership Coordinator, Debbie Berry makes sure that students can take advantage of such opportunities.

showcaseOn any given day, Debbie Berry may receive word of three or more job opportunities. She then makes these opportunities known to students—during the 2015-16 academic year alone, she has sent out over 100 emails with employment opportunities for students. These include internships, co-op positions, and part-time or full-time jobs. Since gaining hands-on industry experience is so important for engineering students to make themselves marketable, such job openings are valuable. Past students have interned for companies including General Motors, Logan Aluminum, Pure Power Technologies, Berry Plastics, among many others. And they aren’t just limited to local companies. While regional partnerships are incredibly helpful, WKU students can and have extended their scope to work for national companies. Several Western students have completed one or more internships with NASA.

Over 100 students report their work experiences to the engineering department each year. While not all of the data is available, Ms. Berry would estimate that about 90% of engineering students graduate with an industry work experience under their belt. Much of this is thanks to Western’s Industrial Partnership Program. Connecting the university and currently 14 regional companies, this partnership benefits both the community and students. Companies pay $5000 a year to become an industrial partner and, in return, they get the chance to meet face-to-face with potential interns and employees. The fee helps pay for the industrial partnership program itself, student ambassador scholarships, and many of the networking events the engineering department offers.

expoSome of these events include industry showcases, career fairs, project expositions, resume workshops, and special industry partner-only events. WKU Engineering hosts more than ten showcase events each year, where students can come to learn about different industries and internships they may offer. The department also hosts one Dinnerview event per semester, where industry partners can attend to meet some of WKU’s top engineering students. After getting the chance to network, attendees will eat dinner together, engage in professional development table talks, and have the chance to share resumes. These events are special in that they allow employers to meet face-to-face with potential employees and give students the chance to see what opportunities are out there for them. Not only do students and companies benefit from such events through the Industrial Partnership, but the whole community of Bowling Green is allowed to flourish through increased community interaction and involvement.dinnerview 2

For engineering students looking for internships and jobs, the best thing to do is get involved. Hands-on experiences are some of the most impressive bullet points on a resume. Even if you have not yet completed an internship or co-op, class projects can serve as prime examples of real engineering experience. Skills and qualifications that employers are looking for, such as teamwork, leadership, presentation skills, and knowledge of engineering topics, can also help seal the deal. For engineering students, there are numerous jobs out there, and the Engineering Department is available to help throughout the whole process—from resume editing to providing the skills and connections to land the dream job.

Chandler Clark: Student Worker in the Engineering Prototype Facility

April 5, 2016

Threchandler clarke years ago, Chandler Clark saw advertising within the engineering building for a position in WKU’s Engineering Prototype Facility (EPF). Ever since then, she has been a student worker in this facility. She was excited to take the job because of the flexible hours, wide range of experiences she could gain, and the opportunity to learn about machines. Currently, she organizes the facility in order to complete all jobs for students and faculty. She also works to design projects for a variety of disciplines, support student projects, and is involved with Western’s biodiesel project. Chandler says that “working in the EPF has given [her] many hands-on experiences to better connect the theory and math to the actual product being completed” (Clark). She has also learned a great deal about time management and problem solving, all while gaining experience that will prepare her for her future career.

Her favorite part of the job is helping other students complete their projects, and she loves seeing the process through to the end. In fact, one of her most enjoyable experiences as a student worker has been working the Engineering Exposition each semester. At this event, WKU engineering students present their research and projects. Chandler says that it is “neat to see all of the hard work within the department being shown at once” (Clark.)

By having the opportunity to work with other students, Chandler has been able to learn about more than just engineering through her job. She has gained valuable interpersonal skills and made lifelong friends. She has met many people through the engineering department and feels that she can connect well with other engineering students, even if they aren’t specifically in the mechanical discipline like her. Some of her best friends have come from spending countless hours in the engineering building for classes and work. She has also had memorable experiences with the engineering department as a whole, such as frequent bowling trips with both students and professors, and their yearly paintball event.

Chandler is from Edgewood, Kentucky and will be graduating in May 2016 with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in systems engineering. She chose engineering because of encouragement from a high school teacher, who also happened to be a nun. As Chandler says, “if you can’t trust nuns, you can’t trust anyone!” (Clark). Glad that she followed her teacher’s advice, Chandler loves engineering and hopes to continue her education in the fall, where she will pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. As one of only a handful of females in engineering, Chandler admits that it can sometimes be a challenge to “keep up with the guys,” but she values every chance she gets to learn from teachers and other students (Clark). Clearly, nothing has held her back thus far—in addition to her job in the EPF, Chandler plays soccer for WKU, is president of the WKU branch of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a member of Tau Beta Pi, and a student researcher. She is excited to use the knowledge and skills learned through her job and other experiences at WKU to prepare her for her future education and career.



Works Cited:

Clark, Chandler. Personal Interview. 4 April 2016.

Concrete Canoe Competition: Going to Regionals

March 30, 2016


Bark, wood, canvas, aluminum, plastic, and fiberglass. All of these materials are commonly used to make canoes. Concrete doesn’t quite seem to fit in the same category, but it is exactly what WKU engineering students have used year after year to build their canoes and enter the National Concrete Canoe Competition. Hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), this competition challenges engineers to work together as a team and, amazingly, make concrete float above water. On Wednesday, March 30 WKU’s Concrete Canoe team headed off to Cincinnati to compete in the regional competition.

A great deal of work went into preparing for this highly competitive event. One of the team captains, Tyler Baker, estimates that the team put nearly 500 hours into the design and production of their canoe. This year, the team decided to try several new things that had not been done in any previous years of competition for WKU. One innovation was the use of fly ash in their canoe design. Fly ash comes from burning coal, and from this product concrete can be made. By using fly ash for most of the canoe, the team was able to reduce CO2 emissions by about 70%. In fact, the canoe is one of the most environmentally friendly canoes that Western has produced, and the team is very excited to present this information at regionals.

This year’s canoe is also one of the lighter canoes that the team has made. By using a special aggregate, they were able to make their canoe out of concrete about three times lighter than the average concrete. The whole boat weighs a total of 180 pounds, and it has additional flotation material at either end to ensure that the canoe stays afloat. Designing and building the canoe has taken the team all year, and they are excited to finally put their hard work to the test. From the ten-hour process of pouring the canoe to finishing touches put on during the week before the competition, all team members have been through a great deal and are ready to show off their finished product.

At regionals, the concrete canoe will be judged on 100_3931several components. One of these is aesthetics—how the canoe looks. Each year the team picks a theme for their canoe, and this year it is BBQ. Cleverly naming the canoe “Bar-B-Qrete,” the words on the side of the canoe are not merely paint. Students had to actually carve the letters into the body of the canoe and pour in colored concrete to achieve the desired effect. The letters were covered to dry and, when the sticker was peeled off, some areas of the canoe were left a bit rougher than intended. This is one aspect of the canoe that has left the team a bit nervous for regionals, but overall they are confident in the boat’s theme and design.

The team will also be judged on the academic portion of the project. The paper they have written on the project will be judged, as well as a five minute oral presentation. During the presentation, the team will push sustainability and cost—two aspects of the canoe of which they are most proud. Not only is their canoe environmentally friendly, but they were able to greatly decrease the budget needed for this year’s project. Last year the budget cost approximately $6,000, but this year they only used $2000 to build the canoe.

Finally, the canoe will truly be put to the test. It will be judged on how it holds up in water. In the flo tation test, the canoe will be entirely submerged in water and, in order to pass, it must float back up to the top. The team will also use the canoe in five races, four of which are sprints and one an endurance race.

Nervous but eager to test out their concrete canoe, the team is excited to compete at regionals! Last year, Western won first place at the regional competition and advanced to nationals, so the team is hoping to do a repeat of last year’s success. All team members are happy with their finished product and can’t wait to compete. Tyler Baker shared that his favorite part of the process has been getting the opportunity to work on a real, hands-on engineering project. He, along with the rest of the team, has learned a great deal about meeting deadlines, scheduling, working with others, and dealing with problems as they come. After all, they have managed to build a floatable, usable canoe from concrete, achieving what may seem impossible to most.

WKU Steel Bridge Team Leaves for Regionals!

March 30, 2016


Students in hard hats running back and forth, passing off pipes as quickly as they can, rushing to tighten screws and bolts, and dodging the “river” that is drawn on the ground with chalk. This is a practice run for the WKU Steel Bridge Team. The team left for regionals on Wednesday, March 30 to compete in Cincinnati for a place at the national competition. On Tuesday, they were busy at work preparing for all aspects of the competition.

100_3871As made clear by one of their practice runs, the steel bridge competition is not just about putting a bridge together—it’s also about building that bridge with speed and efficiency. One of the competition categories is Construction Speed, where the team must put their bridge together as fast as they can, while also making sure to use safe construction practices and minimize mistakes. Outside of the engineering building, the team completed practice runs for this component of the competition, where they worked quickly and then examined their own product for loose bolts and other mistakes that would deduct from their final score. One of the team captains, Daniel Hammer was eager to share about preparation for this year’s competition.

The 2016 WKU Steel Bridge team consists of eleven people, who have been working on it all year in their senior project class. During the fall semester, they worked on designing the bridge, and this semester they have fabricated it and brought their ideas into reality. Daniel’s favorite part of the process has been seeing the bridge finally come together after all their hard work and stress. He explained that the past month and a half leading up to the competition have been particularly stressful for the team. They had to make some 100_3874modifications to the bridge in order to keep it straight while holding a load. They also had to go through a great deal of practice to improve their speed and efficiency and minimize possible penalties. While making sure to tighten bolts and quickly pass off materials, all team members also have to make sure to stay in bounds during construction—stepping out is another way to get penalties.

Western’s steel bridge team has qualified for nationals for five years in a row, and this year they hope to do the same. First, they will face some of their rivals at regionals, which include many of the larger schools inside and outside of the Ohio Valley region, such as Akron, Ohio State, and the University of Pittsburgh. On the morning of the competition, they will put their bridge together to be judged for aesthetics, and then they will take it apart again so that they can re-build it later and be judged on speed. Slightly nervous and very excited, the team hopes their hard work will pay off and earn them a place at nationals, which will take place at BYU in Provo, Utah. Daniel Hammer is excited to once again experience the unique environment at this competition, where all WKU team members and faculty advisors gather near the construction team, loudly cheering them on and providing encouragement. Well-prepared and excited, the team is eager to present their bridge at regionals. They have all learned a great deal about team work, bridge construction, and what it takes to carry out a real engineering project.


Dated Desk Development: Design Sprint in Progress

March 23, 2016


“Too much homework!” “Too early in the morning!” “Too many tests!” Students are not shy to make their complaints about school known. All the way from elementary school, where kids whine about not getting enough recess time, up to their senior year of high school, where they feel the homework, tests, and college applications weighing them down, students complain about school. Even throughout college, the criticisms continue, regardless of whether students enjoy school or not. However, some of these complaints are quite justified—including one such complaint concerning the size of desks in WKU’s Thompson Complex for Science.

This semester, Dr. Gordon 129Smith is teaching several engineering classes in the Thompson Complex that are typically taught in the building for Engineering and Biological Sciences. Classrooms 129 and 402 contain lecture hall-type seating, only providing students with small flip-up desks attached to the chairs. According to Dr. Smith, while it may be the “finest educational seating of 1954…it is awful” for the engineering classes he teaches currently. Students struggle to learn effectively in these environments, and taking exams is particularly difficult. In order to find a solution, Dr. Smith decided to give this problem to the students and allow them to solve it themselves through a design sprint.

In the engineering department, there are six design courses, where students have between a semester and a full year to analyze a problem and solve it. Oftentimes, these are high stake problems—industry partners provide factory problems and want applicable solutions from upperclassmen. However, design sprints give younger students an opportunity to gain similar experiences. Appropriately named a design “sprint,” these projects shorten the process down to only 6-8 weeks. For this particular project, Dr. Smith asked students to come up with some sort of desk modification to improve the quality of learning in his classrooms. His specifications: the desks must be able photo 1to be added and removed by students before and after class, easily stored within the classroom, and made from common materials. Two groups of students quickly got to work, eager to complete a project that would make their own lives and the lives of others much easier.

After exploring several design options, they were put to the test at the WKU Engineering Expo. Using chocolate to entice attendees to use and evaluate their desk prototypes, the students gained feedback to help them create a final design. Many of the testers thought the desks worked well, and others gave some helpful criticism. Getting comments ranging from “desks are a little tight” to “great for napping,” the students used this feedback and created the final design. The desk modifications were built so that, when several are used in a row, they will fit together and create one long tabletop surface. Currently in production, the desks are being created for a total of $1600, which was generously provided by the photo 2dean. Choosing inexpensive methods and working in a production line fashion, student volunteers are making the desk modifications become a reality.

It is exciting for current students to experience the production of the desks, and future students will not miss the benefits of this project either. Whether they get the opportunity to use the desks or not, they will get to see the results of a hands-on engineering project carried out by Western students. One of the most important things students are learning in this project is that nothing ever goes as perfectly as pictured, but this is ok and sometimes even leads to new, better ideas. The desk modification project should be completed in time for this semester’s students to utilize the new desks for their final exams. But, the work is never done! Dr. Smith hopes to maintain a list of projects that can be completed as design sprints to help the engineering department, as well as others on campus. Next on that list? To build a stand for the desks using only the scraps from this project! A challenging and meaningful task, it will be a project perfect for engineering students who love to dive in and get their hands dirty!



Heading off to Regionals!

March 30, 2016


The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is the oldest engineering society in the United States, and the organization’s goal is to “enhance the welfare of mankind through the advancement of the science and profession of engineering” (ASCE vii). The ASCE provides many opportunities to engineering students, such as activities on college campuses, meetings, educational outreach, conferences, and social events to allow future engineers to meet and connect with others and prepare for their careers. Two of these opportunities are the Concrete Canoe Competition and the Steel Bridge Competition.

Competitions with both regional and national components, these events are large and fiercely competitive. For each competition, teams work together all year to build the best possible finished product. For the concrete canoe competition, students must build a floatable canoe from concrete that can be raced in water. The steel bridge competition involves building a steel bridge safely and efficiently. Western Kentucky University has entered both of these competitions for many years and today, both teams head off to regionals! Wish them good luck, and stay posted for more details and updates on the competitions!



Works Cited:

American Society of Civil Engineers. 2016 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition™ Rules & Regulations. (2016): 1-58. ASCE. PDF File.

What it’s Like to Work for the Engineering Department: Bryce Aberg’s Experience

March 28, 2016bryce aberg

In a word, Bryce Aberg would describe his position within the engineering department as “baller.” For the past three months, Bryce has worked as a student researcher at Western Kentucky University. Dr. Farhad Ashrafzadeh, a professor of electrical engineering, approached Bryce with the job offer when he had an opening in his lab. Bryce was pleased to take the job and begin researching. The major project of the lab is to improve the energy efficiency of a major company’s clothes dryer. Bryce’s role in this research is to use thermodynamics principles to model the dryer and clothes system. He works alongside another student to develop a mathematical model of the system and compare their simulation results with those of another worker. Using the knowledge he has learned through his engineering classes at Western, Bryce is working to solve a real-world problem. However, through his job, he has learned that “being able to handle people is equally, if not more important, than being able to handle physics,” (Aberg). His position as a student worker is putting both his interpersonal and his engineering skills to the test.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bryce’s interest in engineering was fostered early in life. Growing up surrounded by his father’s projects, gadgets, and passion for building things, Bryce has decided to follow his path as an electrical engineer. He will graduate in 2016 as an electrical engineering major, but he has left his mark on WKU’s campus. A member of the Engineering Honor Society Tau Beta Pi, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and a researcher in the physics department, Bryce is quite involved on and off campus. One of his favorite experiences within the engineering department was going to a robotics competition hosted by the IEEE in 2013. Despite all of the serious work involved with his major and his current job, Bryce maintains a sense of humor and would like to share this picture of him on the job:

me on the job



Works Cited:

Aberg, Bryce. Personal Interview. 23 March 2016.

Desert Rams, Mark Twain, and Real-Life Looney Toons

March 16, 2016

There are very few syllabi that warn students to watch out for desert rams…but Dr. Warren Campbell’s is one of them! Every year since 2012, Dr. Campbell has taken a group of WKU civil engineering students on the Total Immersion Floodplain IMG_0510Management Study Away trip. This winter term, department head Dr. Julie Ellis, Professor Jason Wilson, and Dr. Campbell led a group of 18 students across the American Southwest. One student from the University of Vermont even joined the group, after reading about the unique experience online. The trip included stops in La Jolla, Encinitas, Borrego Springs, Las Vegas, Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Hoover Dam. At all of these sites, students were able to learn about historical flood control successes and failures, while gaining important new experiences and exploring the natural beauty of the Southwest.

Students hiking up the debris flow

The group often woke up to the sight of desert rams grazing outside their window, and Dr. Campbell reports seeing coyotes and roadrunners nearly every day of the trip. A dream come-true for Looney Toons fans, the experience was also special for several of the students who had never in their lives been on a plane or ventured west of the Mississippi River. Traveling to see this different area exposes students to a whole new terrain with an arid climate that gives civil engineers an important, new perspective. Dr. Campbell states that the theme of the trip can be described with a Mark Twain quote: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.” While difficult to fully understand here in Kentucky, the dry climate of the Southwest makes Twain’s statement quite relatable. In an area where water is so scarce, drastic measures must be taken to ensure that homes and farms have the water that they require. After all, it affects not just those areas themselves, but the whole country—California provides 60% of all produce to the US. Dr. Campbell believes that this trip offers students an important opportunity to see measures that have been taken to control water in the Southwest—measures that someday may need to be taken here as well. As future civil engineers, the students will be working on projects like these, such as Hoover Dam.

While Dr. Campbell particularly enjoyed hiking up the debris flow in Borrego Springs this year, Hoover Dam is always a favorite site of the students. Much different from simply learning about flood control in a classroom, students get to actually stand in front of one of the largest dams in the US. With overflow spillways large enough to hold a battleship and a staircase named the “Stairway to Hell,” the sheer size of Hoover Dam provides an important teaching moment to students.

Hoover Dam PFT
PFT compared to the size of Hoover Dam

No longer complaining about their hike up the Pearce Ford Tower stairs on campus, students were astounded by this hands-on learning opportunity. In addition to the chance to view projects similar to those they will complete one day, students got to learn a little bit about the politics behind flood control, as well. By proposing a possible project to “the mayor” played by Dr. Campbell, students were able to try on the shoes of a professional in their field.

Another important assignment of the trip is a journal that students keep throughout their journey. They document learning experiences, photographs, and personal reflections on their excursions. One student even recounted his frightening experience with a large tarantula after he chose to take a break from hiking so as to avoid getting himself “into a wheelchair” on the first day of the trip. For other students, hiking on the fault scarp was a highlight, and many more felt that seeing Hoover Dam was the most impressionable aspect of the trip. From taking pictures by huge dragon statues in the desert to learning about how cliff erosion can decrease the property value of million-dollar homes, there was a new experience for everyone on the trip.

Just as photographs of Hoover Dam cannot truly convey its impressive size, one single story cannot paint a complete picture of this unique study away experience. Last Winter term, students visited many more sites and gained many more experiences than those mentioned above. Truly an eye-opening trip for those who had never explored the Southwest, students learned a great deal that can be applied to their future careers as engineers—and to their lives in general. Even Dr. Campbell, who has been on the trip for several years, learns something new each time and is passionate and eager to share about his experience with the Total Immersion Floodplain Management trip.IMG_0542

A Guest in EBS: Visiting WKU’s Engineering Department

March 14, 2016


Up on top of the hill at Western Kentucky University lies the Engineering department, which is headquartered in the Engineering and Biological Sciences building. Nestled in between Snell Hall and EST (an academic structure dedicated to science courses), EBS is not often visited by those who do not have class within its walls. However, a trip through its halls gives visitors an interesting glance into the on-goings of the engineering department. I had the opportunity to take this trip, guided by engineering department head Dr. Julie Ellis.

lab photoWalking down the halls, the huge lab located on the bottom floor definitely stands out. The glass walls of this room reach all the way to the top of the building, allowing one to stand on the second floor and watch the activities occurring in the lab. Filled with machinery, on-going projects, and complicated equipment, this lab piques the interest of anyone walking by. On the inside, one can get a closer look at some of the innovative projects WKU engineering students are working on at any given time. During my trip, Dr. Ellis pointed out a large stack of wooden planks. She explained that they were in production as desk modifications for a classroom in the Thompson Complex. A building that holds mostly labs rather than traditional classrooms, the current desks were far too small to be comfortable and useful to students. As a result, engineering faculty Dr. Gordon Smith challenged his students to create some sort of low-budget desk modifications that would help create a better learning environment in these classrooms. Now, his students are working to fix a real-world problem—one that even affects them and their classmates.

I was able to witness several other projects in action, as well. Stopping by a few classrooms, I saw many students busy at work. In one room, students worked on homework while a 3D printer whirred in the background. Eric Weaver, an engineering student, eagerly explained that the printer had been programmed to make small models of the WKU mascot Big Red. Three or four sat out on the table, already completed, while the printer continued the eleven hour process of creating one more softball-sized statue. In the materials lab, a group of students gathered around the concrete canoe, a project that occurs every year for the national concrete canoe competition. Several students sanded the canoe, which had recently been removed from its mold, while another explained the layers of the canoe and the display stand that would be built to go along with it. With regionals approaching in just a few weeks, the team was both nervous and excited to complete their final product.

Engineering & Biological SciencesSeeing engineering students in action helps create an understanding of the department at WKU. Many new students like me may be unaware of what exactly goes on behind the walls of the engineering building. However, after taking a walk around, one can easily see the energy and passion of these students for their field of study. Many students are eager to share about their projects with others, much like their passionate professors, who also love to speak about their courses and the accomplishments of their students. From seeing the construction of the concrete canoe to Dr. Ellis casually mentioning several tennis ball-throwing contraptions in the corner of the room, Western’s engineering department holds many surprises. In the end, one thing is definitely clear—WKU engineering is always up to something! Home to a diverse group of students involved with a variety of projects, WKU Engineering is a busy department with unique assignments occurring at any given moment.



Works Cited:

Engineering Sign. Digital Image. Carris Tech. List of Odgen College of Science and Engineering WKU Images. Web. 20 March 2016.

Engineering Building. Digital Image. WKU Map. Engineering and Biological Sciences. Web. 20 March 2016.