People of SU / Science, Technology and Health
Written by Allison Nitch and Tina Potterf
June 1, 2022
Image credit: College of Science & Engineering
Through Seattle University’s Project Center, students are truly engineering solutions for real-world problems.
The Project Center hosts Projects Day on campus each year to showcase the culmination of work Seattle University undergraduate students in Engineering, Environmental Science and Computer Science have completed with a project sponsor. This year there are 44 projects—including 20 that are Computer Science-focused—from sponsors including Amazon, Kenworth, F5, Kilowatts for Humanity, Seattle City Light, PACCAR, Mari’s Place for the Arts, The Postman and more. The collaboration among the students, led by a faculty advisor, and organizations provides hands-on experience on projects that apply classroom learning to real-life scenarios, while shaping the next generation of STEM professionals.
And the results will be showcased at the 35th annual Projects Day, June 3, noon–6:30 p.m., in Sullivan Hall and the Sinegal Center. There will be presentations on smart flexible sensors in the cold chain management market, data center robotic technology, off-grid community development planning and the impact of beaver dams on waterways, estuary restoration projects and many more. (The event will be both in-person and livestreamed.)
“This year’s Projects Day is very special because, while we are celebrating 35 years of projects that have impacted thousands of students, this is also our first year in our new Project Center spaces … and our first in-person Projects Day since 2019,” says Rachael Brown, director of the Project Center.
Over the course of the center’s history, 3,738 students working in teams have completed roughly 900 projects with 271 unique sponsoring organizations throughout the region. According to Brown, increases in enrollment in Engineering and Computer Science are reflected in the marked growth of the numbers of projects during the past decade—from 25 in 2011-12 to the more than 40 this academic year.
“The Project Center and the projects students work on are absolutely aligned with our goals and strategic directions of enhancing opportunities for professional formation and taking full advantage of Seattle University’s location in this dynamic metropolitan region,” says President Eduardo Peñalver.
Associate Dean and Professor Jean Jacoby, who is retiring this June, has been part of the Project Center nearly from the beginning—since 1992, to be exact. Jacoby’s involvement began when she became a faculty advisor for student design teams, which continued until 2006, before she served as director of the Project Center from 2010–2021.
“For 35 years, the Project Center has forged creative partnerships linking Engineering, Environmental Science and Computer Science students with businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the Puget Sound region and beyond,” says Jacoby. “The impact of these projects on the companies, organizations and the communities that they serve has been far reaching.”
As one of the most visible and distinguished programs at the university, the benefits of the Project Center, says Jacoby, extend well beyond the classroom into recruitment efforts. “Because of [the Project Center’s] national reputation for excellence in experiential learning and professional formation, students are drawn to Seattle University and the stature of the entire university is elevated.”
Here’s a closer look at some of this year’s projects:
Search Engine of Community Organizations for Mari’s Place for the Arts
Mari’s Place for the Arts is a nonprofit that empowers low-income BIPOC children, youth and families to pursue their dreams through arts and culture programs that create a community of civically engaged youth and parents. Like many BIPOC nonprofits, it has been continuously underfunded and is looking for alternative ways to bridge access to resources. SU’s project team sought to connect BIPOC nonprofit organizations and other underfunded communities with a broader audience of funders and bridge access to potential funding of their needs. This project created a desktop application that allows the user to search for funders whose priorities are aligned to organizations like Mari’s Place. With this new application, the organization will be able to connect with more funders and make informed decisions when applying resources. Through these connections, they will maintain an efficient network of like-minded organizations and increase their funding opportunities.
Faculty advisor Pejman Khadivi, PhD, assistant professor of Computer Science, says these capstone projects are very similar to the types of projects that students will face post-graduation.
“Students are able to (and should) use all the theories they have learned during their undergrad program to design, implement, test and deliver a system from scratch,” he says. “And they have a chance to practice all the roles in a software engineering team.”
Votegrity SaaS Solution for Votegrity, Inc.
Votegrity is an online voting company catering to private market elections. Their existing product is already functional and generating revenue, however the platform has ample opportunity for expansion to further differentiate it in the marketplace. SU’s team was tasked with constructing a robust administration web portal and dashboard that allows election officials to easily set up, distribute and administer elections. Votegrity’s ambition is to create an online voting service that works for everyone—simple enough for a person in any demographic to feel comfortable using, while also built securely so people feel confident in the integrity of the results, as voters, administrators and/or auditors.
Jason Wong, MSE, instructor in Computer Science, was the faculty advisor on the project with the Seattle-based company.
“We know the value of participating in community and industry-sponsored capstones. We enjoy sharing our decades of knowledge and experience mentoring student teams and community sponsors through this nine-month journey of creating new software,” Wong says. “Personally, I enjoy the energy of students wanting to learn and using my experience to help them and community sponsors be successful.”
Mobile App for The Postman
The Postman is a local, Black-owned small business in the Central District that provides third-party authorized mail and business services to the community and local small businesses. These services include daily shipping and package pickup through established carriers, printing, faxing, notary services and private mailbox rentals. Recently, The Postman has been expanding its services along with expanding its mobile application.
The SU team grew the user interface (UI) to include additional services such as a Marketplace feature, the ability to purchase and manage a private mailbox and more. Additionally, they built up the app’s basic backend and connected it to the front-end so that it can process and store user data. These app updates allow users to access most of The Postman’s services without having to visit the storefront. Beyond this, the application will help the growth and development of the local community.
Computer Science Professor Wan Bae, PhD, who oversaw the student team working on this project, says that the collaborative process that happens over the course of the year mirrors what graduates may come to expect once they enter the workforce.
“They develop technical and soft skills for effective communication and collaborative work. I think that the most valuable learning experiences from capstone projects include working on a real-world project and working on a team because they will have to work with/for others … and communicate with professionals in the industry,” she says. “Teamwork is essential to an organization’s success and collaborative expectations have been consistently rising. In each step of the project, students work to solve concrete problems and encounter challenges. Overcoming these challenges collaboratively is part of the learning experience.”
Off the Grid Community Development for Transitional Homeless Populations for Pallet SPC
Pallet Social Purpose Corporation (SPC) provides modular and transportable shelter units for people experiencing homelessness and other communities in transition. Pallet has self-identified the need to improve their facilities to better serve residents’ personal and social health and tasked the students to develop a reproduceable village configuration for a development of 177 units in Chico, Calif.
To accomplish this, the team conducted a literature review and created a specifications sheet to identify best practices that promote social well-being. These best practices were used to design two alternative layouts in AutoCAD, which were scored against Pallet’s baseline layout using a decision matrix. The team then applied the social well-being design principles developed for the Chico site to a 7–12-unit community expansion located in Burlington, Wash. This site plan included implementation of off-grid technologies, including solar panels for electricity, a cistern and pressure vessel for water supply, a firelight toilet for black water and greywater collection system for all other wastewaters. Utilization of off-grid technologies minimizes infrastructure costs, which is a common barrier when developing transitional housing facilities.
On what he finds rewarding about seeing students take a project from idea or concept to completion in partnership with community sponsors, faculty advisor Mike Marsolek, PhD, PE, associate professor and chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says it’s “the magnitude of growth.”
“At the beginning, the students are uncertain, confused about the subject and unsure how to navigate the ambiguity of a real-world problem. By the end of the project, they are confident, have mastered the material and have experience managing ambiguity that will help them as they transition into new careers.”
Learn more and register for Projects Day.
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