EAST LANSING — From freshmen figuring out a new, less-expensive way to teach mathematics to the visually impaired, to seniors designing novel apps for huge global corporations, Michigan State University’s spring semester Design Day had something for everyone with even a passing interest in engineering and technology.
Close to 1,000 MSU students participated in the event, which the university said was the biggest Design Day ever.
There were dozens of capstone senior design projects in all forms of engineering, involving about 500 students.
From computer science and engineering, there was Launder, an app developed for Whirlpool Corp. to manage public laundry spaces in apartment buildings and dormitories. Students Angie Sun of Canton Township, Alex Kambeitz of Macomb Township, Evan Swinehart of Farmington Hills and Sam Bentzel of Atlanta, Ga. created an app that tells users which washing machines and dryers are available — and if they’re all in use, texts them when one becomes available. It also allows payment by PayPal.
Down the hall, a team comprised of Adam Stowe of Grand Rapids, Kasey Durkin of Carleton, Parker Mojsiejenko of Bridgman, Stephanie Le of Holt and Jose Carmona of Sturgis developed a battery-powered surgical tool that would be automatically coated with anti-microbial chemicals, allowing sanitary surgery in remote areas or emergency situations.
On the second floor, innovations included another team working for Whirlpool. Students J.D. Alocilja of East Lansing, Travis Collings of Bad Axe, Ravin Kelser of Southfield, Shannon Pinner of Rockford and Madeline Roe of Grayslake, Ill. are designing a system to build a high-efficiency, water-saving washing machine with only one pump motor, rather than the two they use now (which is one reason the high-efficiency machines cost more).
Another project is showing a landfill owner in the Lansing area how to boost power production from landfill gas by using an anaerobic digester. Another is turning sugar beet production waste into valuable bio-insecticide for Michigan Sugar Co. Still another developed a baby blanket lined with blue LED lights to treat infant jaundice. Another team developed an app for Auto-Owners Insurance allowing policyholders to report a claim from their phones from anywhere. Another team is helping Ford Motor Co. manage usage of electric vehicle charging stations around its Dearborn campus.
Leo Kempel, dean of the MSU College of Engineering, says that 80 percent of the senior projects are sponsored by Michigan-based corporations, “and that’s no accident.” Instead, he said, it’s done purposely as part of MSU’s mission to build a stronger Michigan economy.
That’s also why Kempel proudly said that close to 70 percent of MSU engineering graduates stay in Michigan to begin their careers.
MSU’s engineering college has doubled in size in less than a decade, from a little over 700 incoming freshmen in 2007 to more than 1,400 this year. Kempel says he figures it can grow more to accomodate huge employer demand for engineers.
“Of course we are fundraising to expand our physical space,” he said. “And our faculty is looking to make the education process more efficient, with creative new ways to deliver the content, and we want to expand our faculty to offer more courses and course sections.”
Design Day is far more than the senior projects. Freshmen who have been in school less than a year also show off projects, including one team that figured out how to emboss geometry problems and formulas onto sheets of paper in Braille for visually impaired students. The cost? Less than 2 cents per page, which has attracted the interest of Middle Eastern countries.
Middle school and high school students also attended Design Day, part of MSU’s K-12 outreach program that reaches thousands of students a year. Mechanical engineering students designed novelty systems to entertain them, including carnival-style games, using small motors and simple machines.
At Design Day, Kempel said, those young students “see people just like them who are doing amazing things.”
What Kempel and Design Day executive director Dr. Wayne Dyksen, professor of computer engineering, say they like best about Design Day is that it shows students just how much they can do in a short period of time and on a limited budget.
“I tell my kids they are clearly not seasoned professionals, and they look sad about that,” Dyksen said. “But then I tell them that the reason I say that is, if a seasoned professional had gotten the assignment I had given them, they would have said, ‘No way. We can’t do that. We need $50 million and 50 people!’ The great thing about our kids is that they don’t know yet what they can’t do.”
Overall, Kempel said, “Design Day is dramatically larger than it was five years ago. That shows me that the efforts of Michigan State and really the entire engineering community have shown students and parents that careers in computer science and engineering are the premium careers of the 21st Century.”
MSU’s next Design Day will be Friday, Dec. 11, at the conclusion of the fall 2015 semester.