Rowan Engineering Clinics Provide Hands-On Education

Rowan Engineering Clinics Provide Hands-On Education

The cluster of students huddled over a collection of cookies at Rowan University was not intent on satisfying a sugar craving. Instead, the group ? comprising engineering students from four discipline
The cluster of students huddled over a collection of cookies at Rowan University was not intent on satisfying a sugar craving. Instead, the group ? comprising engineering students from four disciplines ? was, in effect, looking for a way to build a better Oreo.

The freshmen engineering students were getting their first taste of industrial processes in one of Rowan?s well-respected Engineering Clinic courses, this one a chemical engineering module titled ?Industrial Processes: An Experience Enrobed in Chocolate.?

In this particular module, the students learned about industry concerns such as production rate and quality control; economic benefits of waste reduction; consumer demands for uniformity in size; and nutritional content and other aspects of food, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries -- all while enjoying chocolate.

The engineering clinics at Rowan have been a hallmark of the College of Engineering since it welcomed its first class in 1996. And in that, Rowan is unique. Unlike students at many other engineering schools, future engineers at Rowan are able to obtain hands-on experience in various engineering disciplines from the start of their higher education career.

?Students immediately see the connection between their education and industry in our engineering clinics, and sometimes they taste it, too!? said Dr. Dianne Dorland, dean of the College of Engineering. ?The clinics prepare our students well in all areas, from structures to virtual reality, from water quality to auto safety. All clinics provide a hands-on education and open doors to internships and careers for our students.?

Recently, students have been working on a wide range of clinic projects that not only have served to further their education but also have had an impact on individuals, companies and government organizations in the region.

A good example of that impact is the work one team undertook on New Jersey State Police cars. Funded with $350,000 from the State Police, New Jersey Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, the team worked to improve the organization of high-technology equipment, such as on-board computer and communication devices and other items that are mandatory in every New Jersey State Police trooper car. The team's goal was to ensure tools were ergonomically sound and safe in a crisis situation.

The project gave students an opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology. ?This is a premier example of a system integration problem,? said Dr. John Schmalzel, the chair of Rowan?s Electrical Engineering Department and overseer of the project, who noted Rowan was the only school undertaking this work in the state. ?To have a project like that in which these students can get hands-on design experience is simply invaluable.?

Buddy Guest, last year?s grad student from Ocean View who helped manage the project, said, ?I feel that this is a very valuable experience and will greatly help me when it comes time to find a career. As for the project itself, I enjoy the project work and like that I will eventually be able to see some work that I have been a part of incorporated into a fleet of cars throughout the state and possibly have the ideas adopted elsewhere.?

Other clinic projects students have worked on include:

-- Reverse Engineering: The Human Body
Faculty used the human body to teach engineering principles of mass, fluid flow, work, energy and efficiency, forces and levers, material strength and stresses and electrical signal processing.

-- American Society of Civil Engineers Concrete Canoe Competition
Students in the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter at Rowan first began competing in the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition in 2000, beginning their work in an engineering clinic. The contest challenges students to design and construct a canoe made primarily of concrete that will achieve the right balance of characteristics for optimum speed, maneuverability, strength and stability.

-- Society of Automotive Engineers/American Society of Mechanical Engineers Mini-Baja Car and Competition
A team of Mechanical Engineering students competed in the 2003 SAE Midwest Mini Baja competition with a dune buggy vehicle produced from nearly 10 continuous months of work by the students and from the generous support of many local industries, private donors and the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

-- Street Lights
Funded by five major companies, students studied cost-effective ways to measure the light left in streetlight lamps in an effort to save power companies money. They worked on designing a smart light fixture that can transmit data to a hand-held device to measure the remaining life left.

-- SnoRhino
Students developed SnoRhino, a footrest retrofit for ski lifts that allows snowboarding enthusiasts to peacefully co-exist with skiers on chairlifts. The three-student team (now graduated) is manufacturing the device, for which the students have a patent pending. The SnoRhino developers received funding from Rowan and from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance for the project, which they showcased at this year?s Boston?s Museum of Science ?March Madness for the Mind.?

-- Virtual Reality/Artificial Intelligence
Using state-of-the-art technology funded by close to $500,000 in federal government and corporate grant money, about a dozen engineering students have been developing tools to better ensure the safety of this country?s gas transmission pipelines in the event of an attack, vandalism or other problem through the use of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Last year, Rowan Engineering students participated in 128 clinic projects. And while the students have found the engineering clinics to provide invaluable experience, industry leaders and others who have had some connection to the clinics have appreciated the importance of the clinics as well.

?I can't count the number of times that prospective a engineering applicant's main question during a job interview pertains to what type of training they will receive once they begin work. My own son's main criticism, concerning his graduate work in engineering at another institution, is that it is all theoretical and that he is worried he won't be properly prepared for eventual employment. Rowan Engineering graduates may also show some healthy uneasiness when they begin their career but it will not be because they have not had adequate practical experience,? said Chet Dawson, director, Disc TechnologySony Music and a member of the Dean?s Advisory Council at Rowan University. ?The Rowan interns and graduates we have hired arrived ready to contribute. What differentiates them from engineers from other institutions is that they are used to getting away from their desk, working as a team and being involved in a project. I am convinced that the reasons even students after their freshman year are ready to contribute are the result of the clinic program.?