Students talk to project sponsors at Open House 2016

The 2016-2017 UA Engineering Design Program Open House was somewhat like a speed-dating event, with quick but meaningful exchanges.

Hundreds of students, with polished elevator pitches and resumes, arrived at the Student Union Grand Ballroom on Aug. 25 to meet industry sponsors, who wowed the seniors with available design projects.

Alumnus Kevin Witwer, a systems engineer returning to campus to recruit students for a sand ingestion system to test aircraft engines – one of eight Honeywell-sponsored projects – was among the industry partners poised for rapid fire questions.

2016open-house-03_550x367px“It’ll be fun to be there to help!” said the 2012 UA mechanical engineering graduate, who will mentor the team.

The annual Open House kicked off a University of Arizona program in which teams of College of Engineering seniors partner with industry, faculty and other sponsors on real-life projects, a process that often results in jobs for graduates and marketable products for companies.

“Our project count is 74 – and more than 60 are corporate-funded – with 393 students registered in the interdisciplinary course,” said Ara Arabyan, director of the UA Engineering Clinic, who oversees the program.

Big names and perennial sponsors like Raytheon, Honeywell, Texas Instruments and Northrop Grumman drew huge crowds at the event. But theirs weren’t the only tables getting attention.

Traffic Jam at One Mom’s Table

Dozens of students gathered around Hermelinda Bristol, a mom set on seeing her son enjoy something most students take for granted: walking. She is sponsoring the design of an unpowered exoskeleton, which will replace a rudimentary physical therapy device Jeffrey uses.

The UA junior suffered two spontaneous brain bleeds when he was a toddler, which can cause cerebral palsy and affect motor functioning to varying degrees. He recovered from the first but is still working on regaining skills lost after the second. The new wearable device will help Jeffrey and others with cerebral palsy maintain an upright position while exercising the muscles needed to walk.

2016open-house-02_550x367pxStudents on this project will consult not only with Jeffrey and his family but also with specialists from the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, where a powered body suit has been developed to treat patients with similar conditions.

Bringing Home the Couch

Furniture shopping, or at least getting the furniture home, can be an ordeal in Bisbee, Arizona.

The Cochise County seat is situated like a little San Francisco, with houses perched on the sides of steep slopes, and the prospect of lugging a couch up nearly vertical stairs deters many residents, and delivery truck drivers. The city is sponsoring the Bisbee Assisted Lift Delivery System – a conveyor setup that can carry at least 100 pounds of groceries, firewood, trash, recyclables and furniture.

“Most cities don’t invest in this kind of infrastructure,” said public works director Andy Haratyk, noting Bisbee’s aging population.

Many Appealing Prospects

Flight simulator tools, drone zappers and mining truck monitors were among other projects offered up by first-year, long-time and ramped-up sponsors.

First-year sponsor Wittenstein, a world-renowned German-based developer of mechatronic drive technology, was looking to build teams for two aerospace projects – a flight simulator vibration platform and an ergonomic assembly platform for fighter jet simulators.

Long-time sponsor Raytheon recruited seniors for eight projects. One, an anti-drone device to combat growing security and privacy threats, attracted many students, some who said the project – a system capable of detecting, tracking and disabling a pair of drones simultaneously – sounded like a real-life video.

2016open-house-05_550x367pxStudents on Caterpillar teams will have their work cut out for them. Caterpillar, which announced three months ago that it was relocating its surface mining and technology division to Tucson, has expanded its Engineering Design Program presence from one or two projects a year to five 2016-2017 projects: a tool to help change out blades on graders, lightweight but heavy-duty antenna mounts, a model to predict the wear and tear of large trucks on mine surfaces, a system to check the motors on hydraulic mining shovels, and monitors for struts on haul vehicles the size of a house. Caterpillar executives have said that with 25 UA Engineering students assigned to projects this year, the company is looking forward to outstanding recruiting opportunities.

Good Outcomes

Students waited with anticipation to hear if they got picked for their top-choice multidisciplinary projects.

Some accepted the challenge of working on projects outside their primary areas of training; others were paired up with projects more in line with their majors. All will be well prepared to enter the workforce after they display their prowess at Design Day 2017 on May 1.

“It was great to see all of the companies seeking undergraduates from the University of Arizona to work on their projects,” said Dawn Binder, UA systems engineering senior. “Their trust speaks volumes to me as a student here – that we were chosen to work on these high-profile projects with such high expectations.”