Hands-on Projects Prepare Students to Think Like Engineers
Each spring and fall semester, dozens of engineering students at Howard Community College (HCC) work diligently on small-group projects to display at the college’s annual Engineering Projects Night.
The evening is a culmination of the hard work each student put in throughout the semester. And, the experience of working on the projects prepares them for an engineering program at a four-year institution and ultimately, the real world of engineering, said Mark Edelen, chair of engineering and technology at HCC.
“Projects Night motivates students throughout the semester,” he said. “It gives them experience in technical presentations. It provides networking opportunities for students to interact with engineers from the community, who could be potential future employers or internship providers."
Engineering Projects Night gives students an opportunity to develop fundamental skills they’ll need to be professional engineers, said Craig Murray, associate professor of engineering.
“The students give weekly updates on projects and by the end, they can explain what they’ve been doing from a technical standpoint and use language that shows they have in-depth knowledge,” he said. “There’s a level of ownership and dependability. There are twelve weeks total to conceptualize, design start to finish, and then talk about it.
“They learn to manage their time, which is a core skill for engineering.”
Projects have ranged from a customized trike for a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy to an Air Hockey Robot, featured at this fall’s event on December 5, 2019.
Michael Dygert, who graduated HCC in 2018 and now attends the University of Maryland, College Park, said he had the honor of working on the customized trike. He said the projects pushed students to go further than doing calculations and writing a report on the findings.
He said working on the trike, built in collaboration with V-LINC, a nonprofit organization that designs for people with disabilities, gave him insight into what being an engineer is like.
“Because we had a real client, it was important that we talk and work with them to understand their needs and address them,” he said. “Also, we had a firm deadline to deliver the final product. For me, there was no option but the get the project done in time.
“Most importantly, it gave me an understanding how we can use engineering to really benefit the lives of others.”
Not all projects are complete in a single semester. Some simply need more time – and that’s where a new team picks up the following semester. While it may seem complicated, Edelen said it’s common practice in engineering.
“Few engineers work on a project from start to finish,” he said. “Especially for large and complex projects. It is very common for engineers to rotate on and off a project when it is in various states of completion.”
These multi-semester projects also highlight the critical importance of documentation.
“Students get first-hand experience working from past student-generated documentation, which is the best way to teach them that quality documentation is essential,” Edelen said. “It comes full circle when they create documentation to pass along to future students.”
Sponsored by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. (BGE), Engineering Projects Night awards scholarships for “Best Build” and “Best Presentation.”
Danielle Smith, key manager at BGE, was on hand to award the large check at the December 5, 2019 event. She praised the college’s STEM programs.
“As we look at the sciences, technology, engineering and math, that has been a lost field in some areas, so it’s very important that as a company we invest in students so they have an opportunity to grow and thrive,” she said. “And then we want to bring that talent to our organization.”
And, for Edelen, the event is ultimately about recognizing the results of the semester’s work.
“We want students to feel that HCC engineering is a supportive community that works hard together and celebrates accomplishments together.”
The winners of the BGE Scholarships for the Fall 2019 Engineering Projects Night:
“Best Build” Award - $1,500 split between the group – was awarded to Davina Lesley Kame, Magnolia Autumn Flynn-Lebischak, Nicholas Doran, and Gino Valentin for their project, “Piano Robot.
“Best Presentation” Award - $2,500 split between the group, was given to Nick Fenn, Javier Zambrana, Abigail Tack, and Hector Matamoros for their project, “VME Remote Braking.”
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