Mechanical engineering seniors showcase final projects

From right to left: Steve Reis, Austin Roe, Jeff Puskarich, Keith Kierzek and Robert Sprague. The students' project earned the highest score in the competition among mechanical engineering seniors.

May 1, 2012

By Brigitte Graf ‘13

The Department of Mechanical Engineering hosted its annual student exposition last week with 17 teams of graduating seniors showing off their various design projects for faculty, guests, and alumni.

College alumni returned to campus to score the projects on display in the Michel Student Center based on the technical challenges the projects presented, the ability of the students to communicate their results and the required level of engineering activity while working on their assignments.

Dr. Martin Morris 77, '79 MSME, professor of mechanical engineering, said the interaction with alumni at the event is a major benefit for students.

“Most of the alumni scoring the work have management positions where they oversee the activity of practicing engineers,” Dr. Morris said. “They tell us if this is the kind of work they expect from their engineers.  The students get direct feedback from successful, practicing engineers.”

The team earning the highest score in the competition was required to retrofit a water-brake engine dynamometer for use with smaller engines. The project required the students—Keith Kierzek, Jeff Puskarich, Steve Reis, Austin Roe, and Robert Sprague—to design and fabricate engine mounting hardware, an adaptable drive train and a safety enclosure. They also had to trouble-shoot and repair the dynamometer’s instrumentation.

The yearlong projects are designed to offer students the experience of working with real clients in real-world setting. The work coming out of these projects, Dr. Morris said, is often impressive given the challenges the mechanical engineering seniors can face during the year.

“In some cases the teams accomplish remarkable results. Things that I would never have imagined under the rigorous circumstances.” he said. “They’re under time pressure, under budget pressure, and they must deliver value to their client.”

Seniors James McMullen, Sean Collins, Kyle LeGrande and John Leib worked under these pressures and were able to present their efforts on an ultra-lightweight urban vehicle. Though research, development and testing were all part of the equation, the students took care to keep frank communication in the mix.

“In engineering, we have to interact with the client and meet their qualifications,” McMullen said. “We had to take what our client wanted and make it a reality. It’s back and forth through the whole process.”

They also tapped other resources outside of the college by bringing a marketing team onboard.

“What our client really wants is to make a vehicle that’s appealing to the public,” Collins said. “With that we’ve been working with the marketing department. We tried to elevate this car from a sort of nerdy thing to something you could see on the road.”

For Michelle Gerrity, Claire Vogel, Vince Caliendo and Johnny Lewis, a successful project was based in part on the group’s ability to juggle its schedule over the course of the year.

“Everything takes longer than you think it will or you think it’s supposed to,” Vogel said. “You have to react in a positive way. Teamwork and learning how you work in a team environment with different personalities are important.”

Overall, the experience of researching and presenting these projects gave students a taste of what is to come for their future careers.

“Another lesson is just having the attitude of learning and being humble enough to say even though I think my way is right I will listen to what you have to say and keep absorbing knowledge,” Caliendo said. “You really can’t lose that attitude even when you gain more experience.”