Monthly Archives: September 2019

A woman with long dark hair wearing a red polo shirt stands in front of a white wall.
A woman with long dark hair wearing a red polo shirt stands in front of a white wall.

Debbie Claggett


UA alumna offers expertise in event planning, customer relations and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Debbie Claggett graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology in 1997. She returned to her alma mater in August 2019, when she joined the College of Engineering as the new Engineering Design Program coordinator.

She’ll focus on organizing events, including Open House and Design Day, as well as guiding development of the Design Day app, assisting with sponsor relations and managing project submissions.

“When I saw the job posting, I felt like it was written for me,” Claggett said. “My passion is organizing events, and the added benefit of being a part of the university community again was icing on the cake.”

“Our program has grown rapidly over the past few years, so creating a role with a focus on event planning and sponsor relationship management became essential,” said program director Ara Arabyan.

“Debbie’s expertise will play a critical part in our mission to continue expanding the program and serving students, sponsors and the program team at the highest level of excellence.”

Event Planning, Endurance Racing and Everything in Between

Claggett brings diverse experience to this new position. She considered going to medical school after graduating from the UA, but she and her husband decided to start a business instead. TriSports, launched in 1999, became the largest triathlon-specific retailer in the world under their leadership.

A triathlete herself, Claggett has completed two Ironman races and a variety of endurance events, including the team bike relay 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo and the 620-mile, San Francisco-to-San Diego Million Dollar Challenge.

But running a triathlon company taught her much more than endurance. She said the sheer variety of on-the-job training that comes with building a business from the ground up is invaluable.

“Running my own company definitely took away all feelings of entitlement,” she said. “You do whatever needs to happen to get the job done, whether that is packing boxes, sweeping, talking to customers, editing the website – even cleaning the toilets.”

Claggett also worked as the sports, recreation and aquatics operations director at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and as a sales manager for Jim Click Automotive, where she honed her customer service and sales skills.

“All that I learned – the customer service, sales, budgeting, community relations, event coordination, management, sponsorship and more – I can bring to the table in this position to help secure new sponsors, elevate communication efforts with existing sponsors to ensure satisfaction and continued support, and maintain the tradition of well-organized events,” she said.

Claggett’s first year on the team will be the program’s 18th year in existence, and she’s not the only new development. The college’s new dean, David W. Hahn, is focused on expanding experiential learning opportunities for students, such as those offered in the senior capstone course. More than a dozen new companies are sponsoring projects in the 2019-2020 academic year as well.

A man stands behind a table with stickers on it, while a young woman wearing a white shirt and carrying a stack of papers asks him a question.
A man stands behind a table with stickers on it, while a young woman wearing a white shirt and carrying a stack of papers asks him a question.

Dennis Arnold, brew master, owner and founder of Barrio Brewing, chats with an engineering student at Open House 2019.

Among this year’s 81 interdisciplinary capstone projects are a taco roller, a basketball shooter and a brewery chilling system.

Hundreds of senior undergraduates attended the University of Arizona Engineering Design Program’s Open House on Aug. 29 in search of the perfect capstone project, while company and university representatives pitched their concepts in hopes of attracting top students to their teams.

Longtime Sponsors Return

Several longtime partners returned for another year of support. Honeywell is sponsoring eight projects in the 2019-2020 academic year, including a connected battery management system and a method to characterize distortion in additive manufacturing. Roche Tissue Diagnostics is sponsoring several projects related to the medical field.

A man in a collared shirt carrying a red folder hands a sheet of paper to a smiling woman seated at a table

Optical sciences and engineering senior Evan Mekenney, right, hands his resume to Lisa Bennett, a mechanical engineer at GEOST and UA alumna.

Raytheon is sponsoring three, including a basketball shooting machine.

“It has to use a sensor system to recognize where the hoop is – to get a launch item to a target,” said Daniel Overton, senior info systems technologist at Raytheon. “It’s a fun way to get people the skills Raytheon is looking for.”

Launching New Partnerships

The program also welcomed 13 brand-new sponsors, including Intel Corp. and local businesses Barrio Brewing, Mister Car Wash, Rincon Research and Rollies Mexican Patio.

All three people on Mister Car Wash’s research and development team are UA alumni. William Blair, a 2016 graduate of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, talked about the company’s two projects: a water reclamation system and a machine vision system to increase car wash efficiency.

Two men in gray polo shirts, wearing lanyards, stand behind a table with a black Mister Car Wash sign on it.

William Blair and Rob Heisterman from Mister Car Wash spoke to seniors about their company’s projects.

Mateo Otero, chef and owner of Rollies Mexican Patio, first heard about the Engineering Design Program while working as a chef for Greek life on the UA campus, where he would see engineering students collaborating on elaborate contraptions for their senior projects. When he opened his own restaurant nearly two years ago, they came back to mind.

“We specialize in rolled tacos at our restaurant, so we’re constantly rolling tacos – we go through about 800 a day,” he said. “We want a countertop roller that can roll about 500 to 800 tacos per hour.”

Dennis Arnold, the brewmaster, owner and founder of Barrio Brewing, needs an optimized chilling system for his brewery. When he first started the company 28 years ago, he learned as he went, resulting in a chilling system he now likens to Frankenstein. With his daughter, Raegan, entering her senior year as an industrial engineering student, he decided to sponsor a project.

“I kind of taught myself how to do all the HVAC and electrical stuff,” he said. “I just build stuff, but I’d love to know why it works or why it doesn’t.”

The Engineering Design Program is also strengthening its partnership with Pima Community College and launching a collaboration with the UA School of Information. This year, several students from PCC’s machine tool technology program and the UA iSchool will join senior design teams to augment engineering knowledge with their machining experience and information science backgrounds.

Onward to Design Day

After seniors and sponsors met in person at Open House, both groups ranked their preferences. An algorithm matched students to projects, assigning balanced interdisciplinary teams to each real-world challenge.

The undergraduate engineers are now hard at work, gearing up to display their efforts at the next Engineering Design Day on May 4, 2020.

A man sits on an exam table with his legs crossed and his ankle and foot on display. Next to him is a man in a lab coat holding a model of a foot and ankle bones.

Project Title: Wireless Body Temperature Sensor for Implantable Ports

BD logoSponsor: BD

Team 18047 Members:
Allison Edwards, biomedical engineering
Marc Gefrides, electrical and computer engineering
Ian Jackson, biomedical engineering
Alexys Manring, biomedical engineering
Josh Pace, biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering
Matthew Slobodianuk, biomedical engineering

A man sits on an exam table with his legs crossed and his ankle and foot on display. Next to him is a man in a lab coat holding a model of a foot and ankle bones.

Biomedical engineer regains footing after severe crash with new outlook on the medical industry

Biomedical engineering honors student Ian Jackson was planning to go to medical school after graduation. For two years, he had been shadowing Dr. Daniel Latt, an orthopedic surgeon at Banner Health and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona.

His senior capstone project, sponsored by BD, formerly C.R. Bard, was a wireless sensor designed to monitor the body temperature of cancer patients, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, and alert them of abnormal rises in temperature via a smartphone app.

“The reason most of us choose BME is we’re really interested in helping people,” Jackson said.

He certainly didn’t expect to spend his senior year experiencing what it was like to need such help. But in October 2018, while he was riding his motorcycle home from a design team meeting, a car ran a stop sign and plowed into him, dragging him 40 feet down the road. His left leg was trapped under the vehicle before a group of nearby students lifted the car off him.

Paramedics rushed Jackson over to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and into a 10-hour surgery, where they stabilized his fractured vertebrae; broken femur, tibia and fibula; and multiple broken bones and torn-off skin on his left foot.

When he woke up, doctors were discussing a foot amputation.

The Help of a Mentor

Jackson’s mind went to his mentor: One of Latt’s specialties is operating on patients with Charcot arthropathy, a complication of diabetes that can weaken the bones in the foot. Jackson had watched people come from all over the country to have Latt fix situations other doctors said were impossible. Latt took a look at Jackson’s X-rays and said he thought his foot could be salvaged.

Thanks to the efforts of Latt and other doctors from Banner Health, Jackson is fully on both feet today. He’s walking normally and relearning how to run and squat.

“Our goal was to get him a foot that was square to the ground that he could walk on,” Latt said. “I expected it to be very stiff, and likely somewhat painful. So this is pretty amazing.”

To Excel and Empathize

Jackson returned to class and team meetings within a few weeks, although in a wheelchair for the first few months.

“Without this team, I wouldn’t have made it through senior design,” he said. “They really pulled through for me and helped me get back on my feet – literally.”

Jackson’s senior project and his time in the hospital made him rethink his original plan to go to medical school in favor of finding ways to improve the patient experience. While he was in the hospital, he used several of BD’s products, such as their catheters, giving him a firsthand look at how biomedical devices impact patients’ lives. In the year since his accident, he’s created designs for a more comfortable catheter and a bed that can identify pressure points on patients to prevent ulcers.

His new career plan is to build a design laboratory where he can bring his inventions to life. He’s also considering partnering with schools to provide hands-on engineering experience for K-12 students. After all, his engineering education played a part in getting him to where he is today.

“If I wasn’t a biomedical engineering major, I don’t think I would have even considered that I might be able to change the industry to be patient-focused,” he said.

Pat Caldwell
Pat Caldwell

Pat Caldwell holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University.

Over the course of his engineering and management career, he worked for companies such as Motorola, Advanced Ceramics and Raytheon, where he started as an engineer and retired as vice president of operations.

Since retirement, he’s served as a business strategy consultant for manufacturing companies, including Naat’aanii Development Corp., a Navajo-owned startup.

Now, he’s taking on a new challenge: mentoring senior undergraduate design teams for the University of Arizona Engineering Design Program.

What inspired you to become a mentor in the first place?

I believe in the power of engineering to change the world.

What is your personal experience of having a mentor? How did it help you?

My informal mentors were extremely helpful – everyone can use a sounding board.

How does being on a mentored design team help students in the professional world?

Students get a good head start on their competition. It’s close to real-world experience.

Describe an aha! moment you experienced while mentoring a design team.

As an instructor, I saw how students can achieve great things with the right discipline, work ethic and instruction.

What advice would you offer to others considering mentoring a design team?

It can be a great experience.

How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on a mentored senior design team?

They know they are getting an employee who is ahead of the normal learning curve.

Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.

I once considered majoring in music. I love marching bands, symphonic bands and choirs. I am also a big fan of science fiction.