Engineering students tackle real-world problems in Georgia

Students survey roadFrom a research pool in the basement of a building on South Campus to cities and towns in every corner of Georgia, students in the UGA College of Engineering are serving the state by tackling real-world challenges through their work on senior design projects.

The yearlong projects are part of a capstone course that tests seniors on all the engineering concepts and skills they’ve learned and practiced during their undergraduate studies. The projects also provide valuable engineering expertise to help communities across the state address critical needs.

“As an engineering program in a premier land-grant, liberal arts university, we are in a unique position to positively impact communities and support economic development,” said Donald J. Leo, dean of the College of Engineering.

The College of Engineering’s approach to its capstone senior design course differs significantly from many other engineering programs, where there may be little interaction between students and actual clients. In many programs, students are assigned theoretical projects or present their work only to a professor. At UGA, the majority of senior design projects, particularly those involving civil engineering and environmental engineering students, are a collaboration between the College of Engineering and the Archway Partnership, a public service and outreach unit.

“Nearly all of the projects in the two-semester senior design sequence are projects where our students work directly with communities and industry throughout the state of Georgia,” said Stephan Durham, assistant dean for student success and outreach and an associate professor of civil engineering.

This year’s senior design projects range from the creation of a site development plan for an industrial park building in rural southwest Georgia’s Grady County to a road widening project in the metro Atlanta community of Chattahoochee Hills.

In Metter, a team of students is developing a stormwater management plan to mitigate flooding along a creek that frequently closes a busy highway and threatens nearby homes. Grace Darling, George Summers and Michael Timpone recently traveled to the town west of Savannah to collect survey data and share their preliminary work with city officials. They’re proposing a multi-stage solution that includes replacing undersized culverts, creating a drainage channel and building a retention pond.

“It feels great knowing that what we are working on may be used to help better a community,” said Timpone. “All engineers want to better serve society and working on a project like this not only makes us feel good about what we are doing, but it also prepares us for working in the professional world.”

Like other senior design teams, the group working on the Metter project has a list of specific “deliverables” it’s required to submit to its client before the end of spring semester. In this case, the team will provide Metter officials with design documents, a cost analysis and other supporting data.

While any plans created by the student teams must be reviewed and approved by a licensed, professional engineer, the feedback on students’ work has been overwhelmingly positive.

In addition to serving communities in Georgia, the College of Engineering’s senior design teams are assisting business and industry across the state.

One team is working with Gulfstream Aerospace, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of business jets, to determine the forces exerted on aircraft during emergency water landings or “ditching.” In the department of marine sciences’ research pool, they’ve built a test track that propels a 1/20 scale replica of the Gulfstream G550 into the water to simulate an emergency landing. If successful, the students’ research will help engineers at Gulfstream’s headquarters in Savannah validate the company’s computational models.

As the College of Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment has grown exponentially, so has its senior design program. There were 28 teams of senior design students in 2015. The number of teams has grown to more than 60 this year.

Students will present their work at the College of Engineering’s Senior Design Showcase April 12 at the Georgia Center.

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