Monthly Archives: December 2019

Two men in gray polo shirts, wearing lanyards, stand behind a table with a black Mister Car Wash sign on it.
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 two projects at Open House in August.

New partners deliver new challenges for Wildcat Engineers.

Interdisciplinary Capstone is partnering with local, national and global companies to broaden opportunities for University of Arizona engineering students.

In the 2019-2020 academic year, the course welcomed 18 new sponsors, ranging from university affiliates such as the Biosphere 2 to local companies such as Barrio Brewing Co. to government organizations such as Sandia National Laboratories.

Mister Car Wash logoMister Car Wash

The impact of engineering is everywhere – even at the car wash! Tucson-headquartered Mister Car Wash, which has more than 300 locations in 21 states, is sponsoring two projects in its first year with Interdisciplinary Capstone.

One team of seniors will design an aboveground water reclamation system to help car wash locations conserve water on site. The other project addresses quality assurance with a machine vision system that will gather data on metrics such as soil levels before and after a wash, the number and size of water droplets left on cleaned vehicles, and the degree of added shine from wax applications.

“Mister Car Wash will benefit from some bright young minds who’ll approach our business with fresh eyes and ears, while we give them some real-world business challenges to sink their teeth into,” said John Lai, the company’s CEO.

Intel Corp. logoIntel Corp.

Intel Corp., the multinational computer processor company, is also new to Capstone and sponsoring two projects this year: an artificial intelligence method for preventing theft at retail self-checkouts and an epileptic sleep seizure detection and notification system.

Carlos Contreras, who earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from UArizona in 1992 and is now the director of state government affairs – emerging technologies at Intel, said the company is looking forward to introducing new technologies to students, helping them develop skills and seeing the impact of student creativity on the project.

“Data will be essential in shaping the future of every person on the planet,” he said. “We want students to build projects that can unlock the power of data so people can ride in self-driving cars, experience virtual worlds, and be touched by computer-assisted intelligence in ways yet unimagined. The project sponsorship gave us an opportunity to introduce our technology to multiple students.”

Meggitt logoMeggitt Tucson

Meggitt Tucson, formerly known as Securaplane, specializes in power, position and security devices for aerospace. Founded in 1986, Securaplane was the first company to offer a fully integrated aircraft security system, bringing detection, alarm, video, video recording and telecommunication into one package. It became a Meggitt company in 2011.

“We chose to partner with the University of Arizona to infuse energy and new technology into our already amazing products, to really utilize that next generation of engineers,” said Sarah Morris, general manager at Meggitt Tucson.

The company is sponsoring two projects. One team is developing a method for stitching together multiple video camera outputs to eliminate blind spots and provide aircraft with 360-degree views. The other is creating a tool to standardize the way 3D engineering models are translated to work instructions for assembling electronic components used in the aircraft industry.

“The energy and knowledge from the students have provided the team here at Meggitt Tucson with a new perspective on innovation,” said engineering manager Paul Thompson, who graduated with his UArizona bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2004.

Five students in red shirts stand next to a small wheeled vehicle made out of steel sheets. A sixth person is peeking out from inside the vehicle.
Five students in red shirts stand next to a small wheeled vehicle made out of steel sheets. A sixth person is peeking out from inside the vehicle.

Team 18025, sponsored last year by professor of entomology Goggy Davidowitz, gather around their grasshopper harvester prototype. The 2019-2020 team will use Agile process to guide their harvester design.

Engineering seniors to deliver value to sponsors more quickly by implementing flexible project management technique.

University of Arizona Interdisciplinary Capstone instructors Cat and Claude Merrill are teaching 13 teams of seniors – a subset of the more than 100 teams planning to display their projects at Craig M. Berge Design Day 2020 – a form of project management called Agile process, or simply Agile, in the 2019-2020 academic year.

A diagram of the Waterfall project management method, in which requirements, design, implementation, verification and maintenance are all on separate lines going downwards, with arrows pointing from the previous box to the next

The Waterfall method of project management, in which specifications are fully developed before building begins. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Historically, all University of Arizona engineering capstone projects have used the traditional Waterfall method, in which engineers create specifications and designs for the entire project before building, testing and verifying the product.

In Agile process, engineers use customer input to focus on a specific element of a project that will bring the most value to the customer, and then design, validate and implement – and, if necessary, revisit and improve upon – that piece before moving onto the next one.

Agile is becoming increasingly popular in industry, particularly for software projects, although the Waterfall method is still widely used. The Merrills carefully selected the 13 projects using Agile methodology this year as ones that could most benefit from the process.

A diagram of the Agile project management method, which includes a timeline marking alternating Story Times and Sprints, with small icons representing different versions of the product with varying levels of complexity. Below are icons representing the product owner and stakeholders providing input at various stages of development.

In Agile process, engineers construct versions of a product in sprints, with the primary stakeholder prioritizing a minimum viable product. (Credit: Wikimedia)


“The idea behind Agile in general is you very quickly give value to your customer,” Cat said.

Cat, who also works as a systems engineer on the University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx asteroid return mission and as a program manager at the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, worked with Agile during her time at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, now the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory. She and Claude both spent years at Raytheon, where they used both Agile and traditional methods.

While the teams they’re working with are using the Agile approach for their senior capstone projects, the students are learning the traditional method as well, so they’ll know how to apply either, depending on a given project’s needs.

Requirements Versus Desires

Agile requires sponsors to define their minimum viable product, or MVP, early in the process, so teams can focus their effort in the most critical area before moving on to others.

“In the traditional method, you have a lot of margin in what sponsors are requesting,” Cat said. “They might need a box to be 4 by 6 inches, but they request larger, just in case. Agile helps the sponsors and teams identify what is truly a requirement and what is a desire.”

Claude gave the example described in “Agile Project Management for Dummies” of a software developer creating an online store for a customer. While setting up the ability to accept Visa, Discover, Mastercard and PayPal would take a full year, accepting Visa payments would take just two months. Using Agile process, and identifying accepting Visa payments as the MVP, allowed the shop to make millions of dollars in sales by the time a year had passed and all desired payment systems were in place.

In Interdisciplinary Capstone, a team is building a grasshopper harvester to remove pests from agricultural fields for sponsor Goggy Davidowitz from the Department of Entomology. Design requirements include remote steering capabilities, a conveyer to move grasshoppers from the collector tray to a storage bin, and a system to wirelessly send status updates to a central computer.

But the most important part, according to the sponsor? The ability to capture grasshoppers! With this MVP in mind, the team is tackling the capture mechanism before addressing other elements of the project.

Sprinting on Track

Another benefit to Agile process is that its iterative nature forces teams to check in on their progress more frequently than traditional methods, making them more responsive to change. There are a number of ways to do Agile, but Cat and Claude are using a particularly structured version in this instructional setting. Students are required to complete sections of work in two-week chunks called sprints.

“Every two weeks, teams should be able to assess whether they’re on track,” Cat said. “So, even if they deviate, at the end of two weeks, they can get back on course.”

Whether they’re designing devices to catch grasshoppers or detect epileptic seizures, University of Arizona engineering students using Agile for their senior projects will learn a flexible process for producing value. And, when the MVP is delivered and their capstones are completed, they’ll be armed with skills to help them find success in the modern workforce.

A tall man in a blue suit hands a plaque shaped like the state of Arizona to a man in a red shirt with
A tall man in a blue suit hands a plaque shaped like the state of Arizona to a man in a red shirt with "Engineering Design" on the pocket.

David Hahn, Craig M. Berge Dean of the College of Engineering, presents Don Newman the 2019 Bear Down Award at Homecoming.

One of Interdisciplinary Capstone’s most dedicated volunteers is honored at Homecoming 2019.

For Don Newman, the 2019 recipient of the College of Engineering’s Bear Down Award, studying engineering at the University of Arizona was what he calls “a foregone conclusion.”

His dad was an electrical engineer, and Newman, a third-generation Arizonan, had always been interested in science. He’d even won the Davidson Elementary science fair in fifth grade, for creating a refrigeration cycle in transparent glass.

He came to the university in the late 1960s to pursue engineering math – now called systems engineering – and minored in aerospace engineering, because he planned to go into the Air Force after graduation. In those years, all male students were required to enroll in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Army ROTC was the most popular option, but when enrollment day came for Newman and his friends, fate intervened.

“We went over to Old Main to sign up, and the shortest line was for Air Force ROTC, so we joined that,” recalled Newman, who had earned his pilot’s license when he was 16. “Then they said they’d offer me a scholarship, and after they did a physical, they said I could fly.”

After graduating in 1971, Newman entered the Air Force as a flight test engineer. He didn’t leave until 20 years later, after he’d earned a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, gone to test pilot school and become squadron commander. From there, he took a job at Lockheed Martin as a program manager and then joined Raytheon, where he worked as an engineering fellow and program director.

“I couldn’t have done it without being an engineer,” he said. “The primary requirement as far back as getting into test pilot school was to be an engineer.”

Staying Busy and Giving Back

When he retired in 2011, Newman decided to spend his newfound free time giving back to his alma mater. He started helping professor Ricardo Valerdi with his Science of Sport program – then called Science of Baseball – and did some guest lecturing for courses in the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering and the Eller College of Management.

Then Bob Lepore, director of the engineering management program, asked Newman if he’d be willing to help organize Engineering Design Day 2014. It was the start of a partnership that has made the college and program both stronger, as Newman has been a driving force behind the organization and execution of Design Day ever since.

“Participation in Design Day has doubled during Don’s tenure – in April, 600 students on 120 teams showed their projects to more than 1,000 visitors,” said Craig M. Berge Dean David W. Hahn at Homecoming 2019, where he presented Newman with a plaque in recognition of extraordinary service.

“For his dedication to supporting the college and its students, the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the College of Engineering are very proud to honor Don Newman with this award.”

When Newman accepted his award, he took the microphone for a brief moment. Had he prepared a speech? No, just the quintessential Don Newman reminder:

“I want to make sure we thank all of the volunteers out there, because we couldn’t do it without you,” he said. “And there’s only 184 days until Design Day!”

A man wearing a tan polo shirt with a brown pen case in his pocket sits with his back against a white wall

A man wearing a tan polo shirt with a brown pen case in his pocket sits with his back against a white wall

Dave Gilblom earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University in 1968, and an MBA in marketing from Santa Clara University in 1979.

Over the course of his career, he’s held roles such as general manager for imaging products at Varian Medical Systems and product manager at PerkinElmer. He is currently the CEO of Maxwell-Hiqe Corp., a global distributor of image sensors, and the president of Alternative Vision Corp., which distributes optics and imaging products.

This is Gilblom’s 10th year as a capstone mentor. He started mentoring teams in 2006, took a brief hiatus during which he sponsored two projects, and returned in 2014.

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

I enjoy managing programs and teams and like working with the students. I had applied for a job teaching ENGR 102 – which I also did for four years – and I was asked by the teaching team at the time to consider mentoring Interdisciplinary Capstone as well.

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

These teams give the students an extended reality check. They learn what is expected of them not only professionally, but also interpersonally. They improve their speaking and presentation skills and learn the rudiments of program management. I have often heard feedback from sponsors about the value of the practical aspects of engineering project execution that Interdisciplinary Capstone provides.

What’s your favorite team or project you have mentored, and why?

My all-time favorite was a team that was given a task that the sponsor was sure would not be completed. They not only succeeded, but provided a complete analysis of the needed work and their results and provided a real-time demonstration of the equipment. The sponsor had to scramble to acquire control of the intellectual property.

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

This happens all the time when I realize that even seniors know a lot more about some things than I do. This is a constant reminder of the speed at which technology changes. The students benefit from the things I know about where designs come from and how projects get completed. Many of them are surprised to find out that technical knowledge is not enough.

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

Make sure the teams are exposed to all of the course material and be able to explain details. Don’t do their work for them – your job is to manage the process. Relate your experiences that are relevant to their tasks. Step in when you see team relationship trouble. Help them find help when they need it. Manage the sponsors and the project scope. Don’t let things get off track. Be honest with the teams always and give honest grades.

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

When I was a freshman in engineering school, my first circuits teacher told the class that the main benefit of engineering school is that, when we get jobs, we would be able to understand what our employers are telling us. The Interdisciplinary Capstone experience broadens the list of things that the students will be able to understand beyond purely technical material.

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

The students love this one. I once wore a wire to a meeting set up by my boss, who wanted to figure out how to circumvent a patent – which had my name on it – owned by the company we worked for. The whole meeting was recorded, and he later got fired. Then, I got a bonus and a promotion. I tell the whole story every year after the ethics lecture.

What else would you like us to know?

Retirement is a boring idea (I’m 73) so I still run two companies and mentor Interdisciplinary Capstone teams. I’ll keep doing both of these things until I am unable to continue. Then, I’ll probably sit in a chair and watch ’60s and ’70s TV show DVDs and listen to classical music. Incidentally, there are a lot of excellent, free music faculty concerts at the university’s Fred Fox School of Music.

A group of six men stand around a table with a prototype on it. A scientific poster on an easel stands behind them.
A group of six men stand around a table with a prototype on it. A scientific poster on an easel stands behind them.

Team 18029 used the Pima Community College mechatronics lab to build a prototype of a robotic weeding machine.

Students with information processing and machining expertise add new facets to multidisciplinary powerhouse.

Interdisciplinary Capstone at the University of Arizona is growing every year, and not just due to increased undergraduate enrollment in the College of Engineering. This year, the course has launched two partnerships to expand its offerings to students beyond the college.

Introducing iSchool Students

Engineers aren’t the only UArizona undergraduates who complete capstone projects. Seniors in the School of Information have their own semester-long capstones. In fall 2019, several iSchool students joined engineering design teams for the first time to complete their projects through the College of Engineering.

“The goal for both the College of Engineering and the School of Information is for students to become accustomed to working in interdisciplinary teams and bringing different skill sets to a group to solve a real problem that comes from industry partners,” said Catherine Brooks, director of the iSchool. “I think it represents the real world and the diversity it takes to solve a problem.”

Because iSchool capstone projects typically last one semester, most iSchool students will only be involved with part of the engineers’ yearlong efforts – though one student is taking a semester of independent study to work with the same engineering team for the full year. This setup imitates a practice common in industry, in which a software developer might join a project that’s already begun, or otherwise be only involved with a specific element.

While some iSchool projects are company sponsored, many are designed and led by students, so Nicholas DiRienzo, assistant professor of data science in the iSchool, said the school also looks forward to connecting with Interdisciplinary Capstone’s industry partners.

“Our students have a variety of skills: data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and most things programming,” DiRienzo said. “It’s a win-win for both groups in that our iSchool students get experience working with a team of engineering students with different backgrounds and training, and the engineering students get the same working with the iSchool students.”

The PCC Connection

Interdisciplinary Capstone has also strengthened its relationship with Pima Community College in 2019-2020. The seed of the partnership was planted in the 2018-2019 academic year, when a senior design team used the mechatronics lab on the PCC downtown campus to build their project, a robotic weeding machine.

“Going to the PCC downtown campus was just perfect,” said team member and recent biosystems engineering graduate Tristan Stevens. “We had the lab with all the tools inside where we could test everything, but if we needed any help, we could just walk across the hallway to the tech school, and faculty members and professors at PCC would help us.”

This year, the schools are taking the collaboration to the next level, with three students from PCC’s machining program joining senior design teams to provide their unique expertise.

“A lot of the things our students do every day could be helpful for these projects,” said Greg Wilson, dean of applied technology at PCC. “We think it’s important to expose our students who may not have thought of careers in engineering to the field, and it seems like capstone design might be the first step to making it happen.”

Garrett Tinderholt earned his bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering at the University of Arizona in 2016. Now, he’s supplementing his engineering experience by learning about machine tool technology in PCC’s machining program.

“I’m hoping to find a spot in industry where I can bridge on-the-ground manufacturing with engineering,” he said. “I figured doing the senior design program again would be an exciting opportunity to do both.”