Engineering students display innovative senior projects

Erik Madison, fourth-year in electrical engineering, explains what his multidisciplinary team has accomplished for this year’s Engineering Expo.

Melinda Myers, News Reporter

Students form long-lasting connections, inspire younger generations.

The Oregon State University College of Engineering has hosted the Undergraduate Engineering Expo for the past 19 years. The expo is meant to showcase the capstone senior project that all engineering seniors must complete before graduating. 

The senior capstone project is a year-long project designed by students to solve real-world problems that pertain to their major, said Brad Canfield, office manager for the College of Engineering. Students can work in single or multidisciplinary groups. 

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“So this year we have 845 senior engineering students who are displaying their work. And those 845 are divided into about 245 teams who are displaying team projects,” Canfield said. “So every year when we do this there are a lot of really interesting projects that students come up with.” 

Project topics span from agricultural applications such as wireless, low-cost irrigation valves and infrastructure in Ethiopia to development of low, enriched uranium reactors with applications in Mars exploration out of the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Canfield said. These projects contribute to the active engineering community, as well as showcase the creativity and innovation that is necessary for an eye-catching project.

“A part of it is about the students showing off their work, but it’s also about inspiring the next generation of students,” Canfield said. “One of the big things that we do at the expo is invite all high schools across Oregon with STEM classes to bring their students to the expo and we provide tours. So we have a few thousand high school students who come in and tour the expo.” 

Jennifer Cohen, administrative manager in the Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, said students can run into presentation challenges such as space restrictions for posters and models, as well as trying to juggle all of this with class schedules.  

“A lot of our designs are water-based and sometimes incredibly difficult to demonstrate in this type of a setting, but our students are amazing and do a great job of telling the story of their design on a small scale,” Cohen said in an email. “We have a new design project every year so we never know what the obstacles are going to be from year to year.”

One multidisciplinary student project involves building, programming and testing a micro-helicopter, and is led by eight students, one being Erik Madison, a fourth-year studying electrical engineering. 

“My project this term was the American Helicopter Societies’ Micro Air Vehicle Challenge,” Madison said. “It consists of three electrical engineers, three computer science and three mechanical engineers and we all work together to create a little micro air vehicle that could participate in the competition in Phoenix.” 

From a student’s perspective, the senior design project is a daunting wall to climb, Madison said. 

“It’s across the board, really time consuming,” Madison said. “Honestly, depending on the project, it’s the most difficult class in anyone’s time here in most majors.”  

However, working on a long-term project in a collaborative setting has its benefits, as well as drawbacks, Madison said. 

“I would say the biggest pro of working on a collaborative team like this is that it’s real-world. In the future when we’re in the industry we’ll be working in a large group most of the time,” Madison said. “It’s not going to be little projects we’re working on, ones and twos. It’s going to be a whole department, requiring many engineers of different disciplines to work together to create something. That’s what it takes, just a lot of minds to make complex things.” 

Cohen said the senior capstone project has potential to create long-standing ties between OSU engineering group members. 

“The students see Senior Design as almost the light at the end of the tunnel for graduation. It takes everything they’ve learned while at OSU with regards to engineering and combines it into one project. The students eat, sleep and breathe their projects during these two terms. They build trust with their teams and share insight with their classmates,” Cohen said in an email. “I’ve seen the bonds that are formed in Senior Design last far beyond graduation and have benefited our students both professionally and personally in so many ways.”

Sometimes experimental projects don’t always fulfill expectations, Madison said, but it’s about the work put into the project, the journey taken, the friends made and the things learned along the way. Undergraduate expo day isn’t always meant to show off a perfect product, but an innovative idea. 

“We’re looking forward to it, we feel good about expo day. Our project didn’t quite come all the way to fruition as we wanted it to,” Madison said. “However, it will be fun to show the world what we were able to do which still took a lot of work and a lot of time, but we’re still proud of it nonetheless.”