Real Deal

SU's Project Center celebrates a quarter century of excellence with a stunning set of projects

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Story by: Mike Thee
Published: 2012-05-22

As the Project Center celebrates its 25th anniversary, next week's Projects Day is an opportunity to not only take in a dizzying array of impressive student projects, but also to reflect on just how special and distinctive this program is.

A hallmark of the university's commitment to academic excellence, SU's Project Center has a virtually unparalleled track record of engaging undergraduates in real-world, hands-on projects. Only a small number of schools nationally have a program as formalized as ours.

The center is a joint venture between the College of Science and Engineering and Albers School of Business and Economics. "Through the Project Center, both engineering and business students gain communication and project management skills, and deliver solutions to complex problems to highly satisfied, repeat sponsors," says Jean Jacoby, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering and director of the Project Center. "We are proud of the accomplishments of our students and are grateful to the sponsors whose support makes these projects possible. We look forward to continuing this strong tradition of experiential learning through capstone projects for many years to come."

A fix for the garage!

 

BroadwayGarageProjectThose who park in the Broadway Garage are familiar with the malfunctioning sign at the entrance that is supposed to display which levels have open spaces. Well, help is on the way.

A team of Seattle University Electrical and Computer Engineering students are working to solve the parking problem in the Broadway garage. SU Project Center students Daniel Leng, Long Ly, Adhanom Debas and Aziz Yuldashev have been tasked with redesigning the vehicle count system in order to make it more convenient for motorists to access the garage, as well as easier for SU security to monitor parking activities in the garage.

The previous vehicle count system proved to be flawed, as it would miscount the number of vehicles in the garage, thus misinforming motorists of its vacancies.

"When we started the project we did not know what was wrong with the old counting system. It took a lot of testing and researching to diagnose the problem and then design a solution to that," says Yuldashev. The team redesigned the count system using the inductive loops from the previous system and added a new controller and photoelectric light sensors to enhance the proficiency and accuracy of the system. The newly designed system will use two sensors to produce a more accurate count of vehicles. "The new system was designed to not only count correctly and display the correct information, but also to be flexible. It can sense direction and can easily be modified to accommodate the change in parking slots in the future just by a mouse click," explains Yuldashev.

- Amy Haedt

This year, more than 40 teams of senior engineering students and MBA students have been hard at work on such projects as developing a new way to monitor and manage stormwater runoff from the SU campus, assisting with the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, building a laser device that can be carried in a backpack and completing a market feasibility study on exporting U.S. products to China.

And that's just a few of the impressive projects you can learn more about during Projects Day next Wednesday, May 30 (1-5:30 p.m., with an opening ceremony in Pigott Auditorium, followed by student presentations and a reception in Sullivan Hall).

One of the projects you'll see reflects the university's Jesuit, Catholic identity and commitment to sustainability. It involves a team of students that's producing an energy audit for St. James Cathedral, and here's how it all went down…

A few years ago, a couple of members of the parish council approached the university with an interest in installing solar panels to improve their energy efficiency. Teodora Shuman, associate professor and PACCAR Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was involved in those discussions. "We told them we weren't sure it was the right solution and that the (financial and environmental) payoff would be small," she remembers. "They very astutely listened, and when we met about a year later, they were interested in enlarging the scope and seeing how the Cathedral was using heat and electricity."

A team of students was then assembled using a complex system Mike Larson, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, has developed for projects in the department. Two surveys are involved-one plots where the students' interests lie; the other, a condensed version of the Myers-Briggs Survey, assesses their personality traits.

Out of this system (which, by the way, Shuman says she has learned to never doubt or tinker with!) came a team of unprecedented composition: all of its members were female. This had never before happened in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Rich in X chromosomes, the team got to work. "They were very enthusiastic about the project and they really dug in," Shuman says. The team examined the Cathedral's utility bills and floor plans, and met with Cathedral staff and their vendors before formulating their recommendations.

Most notably, the team suggested the Cathedral move from steam to natural gas-which is about twice as energy-efficient-and install a more efficient condensing furnace. The team estimated that the initial cost of these changes could be paid off in four years, while lowering the Cathedral's carbon emissions by 15 percent and resulting in a savings of about $25,000 annually.

Their report recommends other measures that could further improve efficiency and cost-savings such as turning the heat down a couple degrees and better insulation. A few other energy-saving possibilities were considered but ultimately deemed not to be feasible. For instance, the team looked into using more eco-friendly LED lights, but found they wouldn't produce the same throw needed to replicate the church's existing theatrical lighting. Heat pumps using the ground as a source for heating were explored but there wasn't enough land area on the Cathedral property to place all of the bores for underground exchangers.

As has been true of so many projects conducted under the auspices of the Project Center through the years, the Cathedral energy audit has been a positive, even pivotal, experience for the team members. Shuman says one student, in particular, said the project solidified her interest in working in the energy industry, two more want to pursue careers in HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) and the fourth already has a job lined up in General Electric's power division.

To learn more, visit the Project Center.

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