An Incredible Story to Tell

Hi-Q Senior Design TeamHi-Q team left to right: Patrick Bonner, G. Bryan Cornwall, Marc Held, Andre Held, Brandon Markowski and Alexander Scalco. (Photo taken in December 2019 prior to the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate.)
begin quoteI was really impressed by the team's presentation. They nailed it! I was also very impressed with how fast the faculty and the students adapted to the new method of presentation… that in itself takes great engineering sense.

Moving to a remote learning environment has provided logistical challenges for professors and students across the University of San Diego campus. Processes that were taken for granted prior to the pandemic have caused USD engineering and computer science seniors and their instructors to put their problem-solving abilities to the test.

Most recently for the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, students participating in the final semester of their Capstone Design Experience course were faced with a complicated roadblock. At this juncture in the semester, every team would traditionally be required to present a live update of their project progress, moderated by faculty. For many teams, industry sponsors would also take part in the review, including Cubic, Glaukos, SDG&E, Solar Turbines and ThermoFisher. Shifting to an online presentation format posed logistical challenges — but also unleashed creative opportunities for ingenuity. 

Faculty quickly coordinated multiple sessions using Zoom and other technologies to provide a virtual platform for the team presentations between March 24 - April 2, 2020.

“What we coordinated worked for all of the team projects,” says Venkat Shastri, De Sanctis professor of engineering and entrepreneurship. “This was a technical review, so we were able to use virtual technology to evaluate progress on the project, mastery of the technical materials students need to know to be successful and clear definitions of the work needed for the rest of the semester.”

The instructors found that overall, the teams were prepared, organized and well practiced. Gordon Hoople, assistant professor of integrated engineering, was impressed to see how resilient the students were. “In spite of the chaos of the world around them, they put together amazing presentations.”

Leading up to the live critical design review, the Hi-Q Environmental Products team spent many weeks to ensure that they would have a completed Particle Generator to display in person for faculty and students to view. Senior Andre Held explains how their team managed the shift to a virtual format. 

“Knowing that we would all be online for the review, our team focused on having many detailed images to document the progress we have made at this point. Even though the format of the review altered, I believe that we adapted and were able to not only achieve our goals, but surpass them.”

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Daniel Codd was happy to see the students engaged and teams working cohesively. “Distance learning is unfortunate and difficult in project-based courses — yet the experience will serve them well working with geographically-dispersed design teams, which is common in industry.”

What distinguished the strongest presentations were the teams' abilities to answer questions — whether it was a technical question about testing and data, a question about test plans or even questions about their specifications and design decisions. The strongest teams had excellent depth and breadth with supporting slides as additional documentation.

“The shift to online critical design review presentations was successful because the students treated the challenge with professionalism,” says G. Bryan Cornwall, associate professor of mechanical engineering. “The very first online class had 100% participation — everyone was on time and ready to get started, but there was a sense of trepidation. I reminded the teams that this is their time to shine. They will be getting jobs when they graduate and companies are going to be looking for creative engineers to solve problems.” 

“The teams this year also have a global challenge to contend with,” adds Cornwall. “They are going to have to be innovative in ways to adapt, take ownership of their part of the project and complete their projects with the resources they have available. Teams that can adapt to a new working environment that requires collaboration at a distance are going to have an incredible story to tell future employers.”

Exemplifying true resilience as Changemaking Engineers, the Hi-Q team has now begun to look at ways to expand their research from aerosol particulate generation and Annular Kinetic Impactor efficiency testing in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Industry sponsor Marc Held, who serves as the president and owner of Hi-Q Environmental Products, Co., Inc., participated in the Hi-Q team’s remote critical design review. “I was really impressed by the team's presentation. They nailed it! I was also very impressed with how fast the faculty and the students adapted to the new method of presentation… that in itself takes great engineering sense. It was a good, real-life, exercise in adapting to the situation!”


Michelle Sztupkay

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