Heading off to Regionals!

March 30, 2016

asce

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.

IMG_0487
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

sign

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.

“Geek is Chic”: Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show

February 29, 2016

fashion show 2

 

“What’s wrong with being confident?” It was only one of many songs played, but Demi Lovato’s hit seemed to blare louder than the rest at the 2016 Women in Science and Engineering Fashion Show. After all, the chorus carries a theme similar to that of the fashion show itself: be confident, and celebrate who you are! Dubbed with the title “Geek is Chic,” this unique fashion show celebrated the accomplishments and beauty of many women faculty members of Ogden College at Western Kentucky University.

An event like no other, this fashion show took place in the Hardin Planetarium. Floral arrangements were hung, and strings of lights bathed the dark venue in soft light. Spotlights shone onto each model as she made her circle around the planetarium, pausing to twirl and show off her outfit. Models for the fashion show came from the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which promotes women entering the fields of math and science. The program hopes to improve the balance between men and women in STEM fields; currently, 68% in these fields are male. The WISE program partnered with WKU’s Fashion Merchandising department to make the fashion show a reality. The IDFM 432 class of visual merchandising students put on the show—the goal of their class each semester is to plan and hold a fashion show of some sort. This semester yielded a show quite different from any other.fashion show 3

The models dressed for three different occasions: A Very Busy Day on Campus (the category for casual attire), Testifying to Congress (professional clothing for presenting research), and Gala Wear. Some of the models appeared a bit nervous at first, but by the end of the evening, they were spinning around, whipping off jackets or glasses for a poised look at the crowd, and laughing happily as they paraded around the room. Prior to each model’s appearance, photographs of her family were projected onto the planetarium ceiling, and the audience got the chance to learn a little bit about this diverse group’s interests and accomplishments.

Dressed in a practical yet elegant black and white poncho, Linda Gonzales kicked off the show for the night. The first female faculty member to enter the agriculture department, she has worked there for 28 years and loves her field because it allows her to become closer to achieving her desire to feed the world. Many more impressive women followed her. With a confident spring in her step, fashion show 1Sharon Mutter showed off her pink, knee-length suede skirt. Proud of her scientific journal publications and her research grant, she thinks it is important for women to enter STEM fields because we need intelligent and creative people of both genders to help solve our world’s problems. Similarly, Naomi Rowland thinks that women can be in any field, regardless of stereotypes. Rong Yang, in a black and red dress, was celebrated for her beauty and her PhD in computer science. Julie Ellis, head of the engineering department, loves working with students and is proud of her son, a software engineer for Google. With a navy floral dress and her hands on her hips, Margaret Crowder, professor of geology, said that female voices need to be heard to empower women for society as a whole. Head of the psychological sciences department, Kelly Madole stated that no one is happy until they are in love with their job. It seems that all these women have indeed fallen in love with their jobs and found their place within the male-dominated world of science and engineering.

However, with events like this, the WISE program is working to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields and bring more women into the world of science and engineering. As shown by the fashion show, Ogden College has many impressive women faculty members, who are hoping to inspire other young girls to follow their dreams. If those dreams involve math and science, they don’t want any stereotypes to hold ambitious students back. In addition to inspiring young women, the fashion show also encouraged its models to have their own look and to continue to be confident in themselves.fashion show 4 In the end, STEM topics may bring this diverse group together, but it is more than just that. Many similarities ran through the women’s bios throughout the night—their love for serving others, spending time with their families, hearing about the achievements of past students, and simply relaxing at the beach. Though their accomplishments are many, WKU’s women of science and engineering are regular people who share common hobbies and interests with others. And, they are just as beautiful as anyone else. After all, “what is beauty if the brain is empty?”

 

 

Works Cited:

Hicks, Sarah. Poster. Digital Image. WKU News. “Geek is Chic” Fashion Show Feb. 29 at Hardin Planetarium, 23 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

Pederson, Miranda. Model. Digital Image. Bowling Green Daily News. Photos: Geek is Chic, 29 February 2016. Web. 8 March 2016.

LEGO Robotics Competition: Episode XVI, Star Wars Edition

February 27, 2016DSC_0729

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…the WKU Engineering LEGO Robotics Competition began! Now an annual event for WKU engineers and the Bowling Green community, Saturday’s occurrence marked the competition’s 16th year of existence. Each year, elementary and middle school-aged students form teams to create their very own robots, using LEGO Mindstorm kits. Their robots are then put to the test, as they go through obstacle courses and complete tasks, all judged by WKU Engineering faculty and students from the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society.

both coursesThis year’s theme brought a new level of excitement to the competition. Students had to take their robots through two Star Wars-themed courses, the first being the Death Star course. In this course, students could choose to either follow a zig-zagged line along a clear path or brave the asteroid belt, where they weren’t restricted to a certain path, but had to dodge obstacles and pop asteroid balloons. Teams had two minutes to try to make it to the center of the course and knock over Darth Vader, thus completing this course’s objective. The second course was the Star Wars (Over the Years) Course, where teams had to send their robots on missions to score points. Again they had two minutes, but in this course, teams tried to complete as many objectives as possible in the allotted time. One team “driver” was responsible for setting the robot in the start zone, sending it out on their mission of choice, and bringing it back to the start zone at the completion of each mission to begin again.

photo 3On February 27, Drake’s Creek Middle School gymnasium opened up for the 2016 competition. Excitement filled the air as students gathered with their teammates to discuss strategy for the day’s competition. Star Wars movies played from a screen in the center of the room, serving as entertainment for the parent-filled bleachers before the event began. Over 150 coaches and parents attended the competition, and 65 students competed on 23 teams. Some teams in official uniforms, others dressed in their best Star Wars attire, all participants were full of energy and enthusiasm. Teams sat on the floor, a few kids choosing to stretch in preparation, others reviewing their programming codes on computers. Soon, the competition began with a quick “May the Force be with you” from WKU’s engineering department head—the Star Wars equivalent of “Play ball!”

Teams gathered around their respective courses, waiting for their turn to pull their robot out of its numbered cardboard box. Most teams chose to travel through the asteroid belt on the first course, popping balloons with pointy objects affixed to the front of their robots. Applause filled the room, as teams experienced both successes and failures. “The Jaguar Awakens” team was eager to share about their experience.

From Natcher Elementary, photo 22 edited“The Jaguar Awakens” team included eight students, a parent volunteer as coach, and one team member’s sibling acting as a mascot. At their school, all students in the Gifted and Talented program are invited to participate in the contest. They worked together to build the robot, starting in January of this year. The team took advantage of the opportunity to practice running the course at WKU prior to the event and had a lot of fun throughout the whole process. They especially enjoyed building and naming the robot, as well as having a team pizza party the night before the competition. Impressive students, these team members are busy at school and in the community—many team members are not only in the GAT program, but they are involved with Beta club, cross country, competitive jump rope, academic team, and more. Like most kids, they love lunch and recess, but they also have high ambitions for the future. The team, like many others, experienced their share of successes and failures throughout the competition.

On their first run, “The Jaguar Awakens” robot managed to pop one asteroid balloon; however, the robot then got off track. Hitting the wall and almost flipping, the team did not make it through to attack photo 26Darth Vader on the Death Star course. After their rocky start, they were able to make a comeback on the second course, touching Anakin for 100 points.

The scoreboard went up halfway through the day (EIT Division winners: Johnson Homeschool team, PE Division winners: Drakes Creek team), but regardless of their places, everyone at the competition had something to learn—and not just the competition participants. WKU engineering students also had an opportunity to learn and give back to the community. By facilitating an event like this, they helped expose younger children to some of their own passions and continued to build a presence for their department in the Bowling Green community. Participating teams learned a great deal about working together and adapting to new situations, as they made adjustments to their robots in between rounds. As one team frantically tried to tweak their robot before their next run, chasing after the robot as it rode right out the door, one team member laughed and said what may accurately explain the positive attitude of the entire competition: “We had the most fun; I don’t care how we placed!” After all, as WKU engineering emphasizes, learning doesn’t come from test scores, but from fun, hands-on experiences.DSC_0723