Science / Technology and Health

COVID-19 Reengineers Projects Day

June 11, 2020

Members of the Space Needle student project team
Members of the student Space Needle project team post atop the iconic structure. They are, from left, Tom Vang, '20; David Barker, '20; Eunice Lubemba, '20; and Brian Jong, '20.

Pandemic forces senior science and engineering projects to pivot

Senior electrical engineering student Eunice Lubemba, ’20, and the three other Seattle U seniors in her project team were in the testing phase of a rain and wastewater harvesting system for the Space Needle Corporation when the coronavirus pandemic shut the taps. The move to remote instruction for the spring quarter ended access to the labs on campus to continue testing of the group’s design, one of the projects as part of Projects Day.

“This has been a challenging quarter for us, especially as seniors,” says Lubemba. “We could not accomplish all the goals and steps we had to fully finish our projects but still we will deliver documentations that has all the information that would serve as a guide to the Space Needle for implementation.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the pivot to online learning posed challenges for all senior students in Seattle U’s civil and environmental engineering, environmental science, computer science, electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering programs who are required to complete a year-long design project. In all, 36 projects were underway this year through the university’s Project Center. The year culminated in a virtual Projects Day on June 5, the first time in its 33-year history that presentations were made online instead of in person.

On a positive note, Lubemba says the team enjoyed the Space Needle project. The company is one of seven new project sponsors this year. “Our liaison engineer is incredible. He was always available to guide us and to provide all of the information we needed,” she says, adding that the experience was “an amazing journey of learning a lot about our majors and getting a glimpse of what the professional field feels like.”

“My experience working with the student team has been immensely fulfilling." Luis Quintero, ’09, senior operations manager, Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Read more about the project below.

The other members of the student team are Brian Jong, ’20, David Barker, ’20, and Tom Vang, ’20.

“My experience working with the student team has been immensely fulfilling,” says Luis Quintero, ’09, senior operations manager for the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Sahm Noorfeshan, ’20, and his team of senior mechanical engineering students had a similar experience while designing a prototype system capable of engaging and disengaging the electrical plug connector that supplies power to the trailer lighting systems for project sponsor Kenworth Truck Company.

“Before this (pandemic) happened we were almost done with the design portion of our project,” says Noorfeshan. The pandemic meant the team could not move on to develop a prototype. “On a good note, we were able to have more meetings with our Kenworth representative since he was also working from home!”

The team has completed most of the individual pieces for its design and will hand off its parts along with assembly instructions to Kenworth. The other members of the team are Owen Van Valkenburgh, ’20, Ben Cross, ’20, and Trevor Hart, ’20.

Kenworth Truck Company project team, from left, Owen Van Valkenburgh, Ben Cross, Trevor Hart, Sahm Noorfeshan

“When news about COVID-19 first came out, our students completed project continuity plans to prepare for the potential of the campus closing down,” says Rachael Brown, corporate relations manager for the Project Center. “When that became a reality, our students were able to quickly pivot to working remotely with their teams.

“The level of responsibility, thoughtfulness and professionalism that Project Center students exhibited as they made this shift shows how Seattle University’s mission to educate the whole person and for professional formation truly does equip our students to be better professionals.”

The silver lining of a virtual Projects Day is a record number of people registered to participate, almost 600, about double last year’s total.

Videos of Projects Day presentations by student teams can be watched here.


Space Needle Corporation and Project Center: Q&A with Alumnus Luis Quintero

The Space Needle Corporation was a new project sponsor this year, adding its backing and support to a total of 36 senior projects through Seattle University’s Project Center. Luis Quintero, ’09, is senior operations manager for the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The following Q&A is about the company’s experience with our students.

What motivated the company to join as a project sponsor this year? 

Quintero: The Space Needle is always looking for innovative projects that explore new technologies. I had the privilege to attend Seattle University as an engineering student and greatly benefited from the senior design program put on by the Project Center. When I was a student my team designed an ecological wastewater treatment system for a Coffee Beneficio in Nicaragua. I had always wanted to support the Project Center because of my own personal experiences and the Space Needle is always looking to give back and participate in local partnerships that strengthen our community.

It also made a lot of sense for us because our “Green Team,” which focuses on sustainable practices at the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, came up with a concept to reimagine sustainable practices for high-rise buildings, but we had no idea how plausible or realistic it was to actually implement. Partnering with Seattle University was a perfect opportunity to support a local partner while conducting a feasibility study on an interesting approach and application of new technology.

What was the project that you asked students to work on?

Quintero: Rainwater collected from the roof of the Space Needle is combined with wastewater from the Observation Deck before it’s conveyed down a 500-foot vertical pipe that runs through the core of the Space Needle and down to our basement before it’s sent out to the city wastewater system. The goal of this project was to conduct a feasibility study for using the rain/wastewater from the Observation Deck level to propel a turbine in the basement, powered by the 500-foot drop. With power generated by the turbine we wanted to directly supplement power to a cell phone battery pack tower located on our Observation Deck level.

Our guests love to take photos and videos to share on social media along with utilizing the Space Needle app as a companion to our free digital photo experiences. After a long day of sightseeing, some guests can find themselves without much battery left on their cell phones, so we have plans to implement a battery pack service that allows guests to continue enjoying the views and digital photo experiences without having to stop to plug into an outlet. We love the idea of charging these battery packs with sustainable energy harnessed right at the Space Needle. 

With the student engineering team’s design and report we will evaluate the implications of constructing the proposed rain/wastewater harvesting system as a future implementation.

How would you describe your experience so far working with the university and students? 

Quintero: My experience has been great. I’ve loved getting the opportunity to be a part of the Project Center again and I feel lucky to be in the position of bringing two amazing organizations together to think about the future. My experience working with the student team has been immensely fulfilling. I know their struggles, I’ve felt their pain, but I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel. I know how rewarding the design process is. Regardless of implementation or not, I’m confident we’ve planted a seed with our student team and that’s ultimately how we change the future and the world.

What has the impact of the pandemic been on the project?

Quintero: Overall the goals of the project were not significantly impacted by the pandemic. The team did not have access to testing labs and facilities for the last quarter. This resulted in an incomplete prototype and while it can be a strong visual for presentations, it was not essential for the deliverable. While some testing was left incomplete without the prototype, the team will be providing the appropriate methodologies to scale their designs as part of their updated deliverable. The team did very well to pivot quickly in the last quarter to ensure they could provide those methodologies.

Would you recommend the Project Center experience to others? 

Quintero: Absolutely. I get excited every time I get to meet with our student team. This project has been the highlight of the year!